Corbett’s Gifts and Favors

 

Government benefits received by some who gave gifts to Corbett
The Pennsylvania People’s Campaign, Progressive Philly Rising


Executive Summary: Is Tom Corbett Above the Law?

While the legislature and the attorney general’s office have investigated gift-taking by members of the General Assembly and a judge, no investigation has begun of the governor’s taking of gifts and the receipt of government benefits by some of those who gave. This report documents shocking facts that demand an investigation and pose a stark question: is Gov. Corbett above the law?

Gov. Corbett has delivered substantial benefits to several people and companies that have made large gifts to him and his wife. The benefits provided by the governor include appointments to state commissions, appointments to the board of the state-funded and controlled Team Pennsylvania which the governor co-chairs, a contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars entered into without competitive bidding, and regulatory relief. In some instances, less than a week separates the date of the gift to the governor and the receipt of a benefit to the gift-giver.

A review of public records[1] finds that Gov. Corbett and his wife have received a total of $28,424.66 in significant gifts. Of this total, $18,658.00 came from people and businesses that do business with or are regulated by the state. Two major gifts, a gown and jacket for Mrs. Corbett, were given by designer who appears to have received no benefit; therefore, the value is not included in the $18,658.00. Also, not included in these totals are expenses paid by other organizations for the governor to attend conferences, meetings or speaking engagements or gifts that are plainly ceremonial. Gift givers have also made $1,132,050.48 in campaign contributions to the governor.

Gifts to the Corbetts approach the total value of the cash and jewelry given to legislators and a judge in the notorious Ali sting operation. But, unlike the Ali scandal, in which no meaningful quid pro quo has been demonstrated, the governor’s gift givers, in several instances, received favorable actions—appointments to commissions and influential organizations like Team Pennsylvania Foundation, contracts, grants, and regulatory relief from the Corbett Administration. Based on the current public record, gift givers to the governor have received more and bigger benefits from the Corbett Administration than what has been revealed in the much-heralded Ali sting.

In some cases, the giving of the gift and the receipt of a benefit took place close together. The timing of these gifts and receipt of the benefit add to the need for a full investigation.

Immediate Action Needed

We are calling for a thorough investigation of Gov. Corbett’s acceptance of gifts and subsequent benefits to donors. We are asking the Auditor General, the Attorney General, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the United States Department of Justice and/or the Dauphin County District Attorney to begin investigations. The next governor must re-issue an executive order on his first day banning employees and officials in the executive branch from accepting gifts. We also are calling for the General Assembly to pass legislation banning all government officials from accepting gifts from lobbyists, individuals, and entities that do business with or which are regulated by state government.

 

GOVERNMENT FOR SALE

Appointments to Commissions and Boards, Favorable Regulatory Action and Legislation

The gift givers, in several instances, received favorable actions—appointments to commissions and influential organizations, contracts, regulatory relief from the Corbett Administration, or passage of favorable legislation. There are two examples when less than a week separates the date of the gift to the governor and favorable treatment by the governor or his administration to the gift giver. Repeatedly, a gift is given to the governor and a benefit flows to the gift giver. Based on what is in the public record now, gift givers to the governor have received more and bigger benefits from the Corbett Administration than what has been revealed in the Ali sting.

A Special Partnership – Tom Corbett and Team Pennsylvania Foundation

Team Pennsylvania Foundation (Team PA) is non-profit charitable (501 C 3) organization created in 1997 to bring business and government together to work on economic development in the Commonwealth. Its board is comprised of state agency heads, one member from each legislative chamber, and representatives from local economic development organizations, utilities, labor unions, lobbying firms, universities, and variety of businesses and industries. Most of its revenue comes from investments and grants from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

In 2001, Gov. Tom  Ridge institutionalized Team PA within state government by issuing an executive order directing state agencies to recognize Team PA as a unique and trusted partner. On May 3, 2011 Gov. Corbett signed an executive order that strengthened Ridge’s order by directing the governor to include Team PA leadership on all relevant state government commissions, boards, and appointments to other bodies.

A seat on the Team PA board is a coveted plum. Board members can anticipate appointments to boards and commissions. Board members also get direct access legislators and state agency heads and to unparalleled business networking opportunities and accompany the governor on overseas trade missions. Over the last three years, Team PA paid the tab for Corbett’s and his wife’s participation in three trade missions, a total of $25,578.84.

 

A CHRONICLE OF GIFTS AND FAVORS (See Appendix)

A review of Corbett’s ethics disclosure filings and campaign contributions available online between 2008 and 2013 shows that:

  • Corbett and his wife have received a total of $28,424.66 in gifts from people and businesses.
  • The gift donors have also made a total of $1,131,050.48 to Corbett in campaign contributions.

CORBETT GIFT DONORS WHO GAVE GIFTS AND RECEIVED BENEFITS

John Moran

Campaign contributions – $141,833.06

Gifts – $2,324.60

John Moran runs a business empire from Watsontown, Northumberland County. His lines of business include trucking, rigging, warehousing, security, information services, and construction. He hauls waste over road and rail for the shale drillers. News reports indicate that Moran began to haul shale drilling waste the day before Corbett took office as governor, before he had a determination from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that the operation did not need a permit.

Moran joined the Team PA board in June of 2011 shortly after Corbett signed the new executive order that directs the governor to appoint Team PA leadership to all relevant boards, commissions and other bodies. About a week after being appointed to the board, Moran treated Corbett and his wife to a luxury yacht vacation in Rhode Island. A few weeks later, in September, Corbett appointed John Moran to the Advisory Council on Privatization and Innovation and Mrs. Moran to the Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission. The day after the appointments, Moran provided Corbett with free air transportation on Moran’s private plane and helicopter. In March of 2012, Moran accompanied Corbett on the trade mission to France and Germany.

During the same time the DEP ruled that Moran did not need a permit to operate a gas drilling waste hauling operation in Sunbury. In June of 2012, Moran was named co-chair of Team PA at the governor’s urging.

Here’s the timeline:

  • Between 2008 and 2013, Moran contributed a total of $141,883.06 to Corbett’s campaign.
  • In December 2010, Corbett named Moran to the Economic Development Committee of his transition team.
  • On June 26, 2011, Moran joined the board of Team PA, an economic development organization made up of state officials and private businesses.
  • On July 1, 2011, Moran gave Corbett a four-day vacation on his private yacht in Newport, Rhode Island worth $1,422.80. Corbett initially failed to disclose the gift on his 2011 ethics disclosure form, but amended it later to show the gift.
  • On September 29, 2011 Corbett appointed Mrs. Ann Moran, John’s wife, to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
  • On September 29, 2011, he appointed Mr. Moran to the Advisory Council on Privatization and Innovation Commission.
  • On September 30, 2011 Moran provide Corbett and his wife free air transportation with a value of $901.80 on his private helicopter and airplane.
  • On March 8 – 23 of 2012, Moran, in his capacity as a Team PA board member, accompanied Corbett and Corbett’s wife on a trade mission to France and Germany. Corbett’s and his wife’s ethics filings show that Team PA paid the $10,856.00 cost for each of them.
  • On March 16, 2012 DEP deemed that Moran did not need a permit to operate a truck-to-train gas drilling waste hauling business in Sunbury.
  • On June 18, 2012, at Corbett’s urging, Moran was named the private sector co-chair of Team PA. The government sector chair is Corbett.
  • Team PA paid $1,154 for Corbett to travel to Silicon Valley, California for a trade mission on September 13-15, 2012
  • Team PA paid $13,568.84 for Corbett to travel to South America for a trade mission on April 6-17, 2013. News accounts indicate that Susan Corbett also went, but her 2013 ethics filing is not yet available on the Ethics Commission website.
  • On November 22, 2013, Moran took over a distressed commercial property in Harrisburg for under $300,000.

Moran has clearly benefited from his close relationship with the governor, receiving appointments to a board and commission where he can establish and strengthen business connections at the highest level. Corbett made appointments of both Morans to influential commissions within weeks of accepting gifts.

Blank Rome

Campaign contributions – $54,211.96

Gifts – $10,065

Blank Rome is a high-powered law firm with an office in Philadelphia. Between 2008 and 2013, Blank Rome employees have contributed $54,211.96 to Corbett’s political campaigns. The largest contribution was reported on December 31, 2012.

In 2008 and 2010 this law firm also treated Corbett and his wife to premium tickets valued at $10,000 to fundraisers for the Philadelphia Academy of Music. In 2010, Blank Rome bought Corbett a $65 ticket to the Phillies home opener.

In January 2013, Corbett gave Blank Rome a $200,000 contract to defend his administration from a lawsuit filed by AFSCME against his plan to privatize the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Vahan Gureghian

Campaign contributions – $332,714.25

Gifts – $500

Vahan Gureghian, Corbett’s biggest single campaign donor, owns Charter School Management, Inc. (CSMI) which owns and operates or provides back-office support for charter schools in nine states. Between 2008 and 2013, he donated $332,714.25 to Corbett’s political campaigns. The contributions include $136,714.25 in 2009. The 2009 contributions include two in November in amounts of $34,285.68 and $1,428.57. His 2010 Corbett campaign contributions totaled $190,000. In November 2009, Gureghian gave Corbett two World Series shirts worth $400, and in December the same year, he sent Corbett a gift basked valued at $100.

Gureghian still operates Chester Community Charter School, the first charter school he founded. Chester Community Charter School is the largest bricks and mortar school in the state enrolling half of Chester’s school children. He owns the buildings, hires the teachers, and runs the schools. Chester Community also pays CSMI a management fee. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Education opened an investigation of Chester Community for possible cheating on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests. In October 2012, the department closed its investigation. The department did find irregularities, but issued no sanctions against Chester Community.

Frank Schoeneman

Contributions – $48,382

Gifts – $1,406.80

Frank Schoeneman runs Empire Education Group, the nation’s largest chain of cosmetology schools. Between 2008 and 2013, Schoeneman contributed $48,382 to Corbett’s campaigns. In January of 2012, he made two separate contributions on the same day of $1,530 and $3,416.85. In January of 2011, he provided free air transportation to Corbett on his private plane with a value of $1,406.80.

In December of 2012, Corbett signed legislation that lowered the requirements for obtaining a cosmetology license.

The Silvi Group Companies

Contributions – $49,800

Gifts – $918.11

The Silvi Group provides stone, concrete, and other materials to road-building projects around the state, including the Route 202 widening project. It also operates stone quarries that are regulated by DEP. Between July of 2008 and April 2012, John and Laurence Silvi donated a total of $49,800 to Corbett’s campaigns. On February 21, 2009, the Silvi Group gave Corbett a day in New York City costing $918.11 that included lunch, dinner, hotel and tickets to a Broadway show.

In December of 2010, Corbett named John Silvi to the Economic Development Committee of his transition team. In January of 2014, Silvi Concrete received a grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority in the amount of $244,222 to construct a public compressed natural gas fueling station at its concrete plant in Downingtown.

Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney

Contributions – $82,566.69

Gifts – $1,162.13

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney is one of the nation’s largest law and lobbying firms with offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Between 2008 and 2013, Buchanan employees donated $82,566.69 to Corbett’s campaigns. In March of 2009, the firm treated Corbett to two dinners with its CEO, Jack Barbour, with a value of $837.15. In January 2011, Buchanan bought Corbett tickets to two NFL playoff games with a value of $325.00.

Corbett administration advisory boards and commissions are peppered with Buchanan personnel. There were eight employees of the firm on Corbett’s transition team. Corbett named Jack Barbour chair of the Advisory Council on Privatization and Innovation in September 2011. The firm represents clients with myriad contracts, proposals, permits, and business with the Commonwealth, including the gas drilling industry. Buchanan lobbies for a range of legislation that would benefit both the firm itself and its clients.


GIFT DONORS WITH SUBSTANTIAL BUSINESS BEFORE STATE GOVERNMENT OR REGULATED BY THE STATE

The following gift-givers received no government benefit.

Martin Lane

Contributions – $88,488

Gifts – $1,800

Martin Lane is Chief Operating Officer, General Manager, and President of Aegis Security Insurance Company in Harrisburg. Between 2008 and 2010 he donated $88,488 to Corbett’s campaigns. In January, he contributed $1,800 to the cost of First Lady Susan Corbett’s inaugural gown.

Lane’s insurance business is regulated by the state.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)/ Robert Kennedy

Contributions – $334,014.32

Gifts – $472.00

Between 2008 and 2013, UPMC employees donated $334,014.32 to Corbett’s campaigns. On New Year’s Day 2011, Robert Kennedy, UPMC’s vice president of government relations, treated Corbett to the Pittsburgh Penguins Winter Classic Brunch and hockey game with a value of $472.00.

UPMC is regulated by the state and has been embroiled in disputes with its union employees and Highmark Insurance.

GIFT DONOR NOT REGULATED BY STATE GOVERNMENT, NOT RECEIVING ANY BENEFIT

Andries Couture

Gifts – $9766.00

Andries donated a ball gown valued at $8,276.00 to Susan Corbett for the inauguration and gave her a jacket worth $1,500 for her birthday in 2011.

 

Conclusion

For generations, access, influence, and power in the halls of Pennsylvania state government have flowed to those who make large campaign donations to politicians.

During the Corbett administration, the cash-corrupted culture of state government morphed into an even more venal form. Now even huge political donations are not enough — state government has entered the age of the big personal gift. Lavish and expensive gifts have become the icing on the campaign donation cake, and in some instances, the gifts are so significant that they may be the cake itself.

The man most responsible for creating the culture of giving and taking big gifts by government officials is Governor Corbett. The taking of the major gifts by Gov. Corbett and the benefits flowing to some of those who provided the major gift is scandalous. It may also be illegal.

The actions of the governor raise substantial legal issues that should be fully investigated. At this point, public confidence in state government cannot be restored without such an inquiry as well as the banning of all gifts to legislators and those working in state government.

 

 

APPENDIX

Who Total     Amount Campaign Contributions Gift                  Amounts Gifts Favor Timing
John Moran $144,207 $141,883 $2,324 Free vacations, free travel, free flights on private plane and helicopter the day after the Governor appointed Mr. Moran to a government advisory  council. Placed on government advisory board, DEP ruled his company did not need permits, Mrs. Moran appointed to the PA Historical and Museum Commission. Moran appointed to board within weeks of giving Governor Corbett and his wife a free vacation;  DEP ruling between contributions, while Moran was traveling with the Governor in Europe.
Blank Rome law firm $64,276 $54,211 $10,065 Tickets to the Phillies home opener and Philadelphia Academy of Music. Given $200,000 no bid contract to defend Corbett Administration in Lottery privatization attempt. Contract given in January of 2013, days after largest contribution made to Governor’s campaign.
Vahan Gureghhian $333,214 $332,714 $500 World Series shirts and food. Gureghian’s charter school was investigated for cheating; irregularities were found by the PA Dept. of Education, but no criminal or other action taken against the school. Gureghian is Corbett’s largest single donor.  The decision not to act upon the irregularities was made in-between campaign contributions.
Frank Schoeneman $49,788 $48,382 $1,406 Free trips on Schoeneman’s private plane. Corbett signs bill lowering the requirements for cosmetology students to graduate. Corbett signed the legislation helping Schoeneman’s schools in-between campaign contributions.
The Silvi Group $50,718 $49,800 $918 Trip to NYC, meals, Broadway show, hotel stay. Received a $244,222 grant from the State, appointment to boards, contracts to supply road building projects. In between and after campaign contributions.
Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney $83,718 $82,556 $1,162 Meals, tickets to NFL playoff games. Appointments to advisory boards and commissions. Eight employees of the firm were on Governor Corbett’s transition team. In between and after campaign contributions.
Martin Lane $90,288 $88,488 $1,800 Inaugural gown for Ms. Corbett. Business is regulated by the state, but a specific favor could not be identified Unknown to the public.
Andries Couture $9,776 $0 $9,776 Inaugural gown for Ms. Corbett. None Unknown to the public.
Robert Kennedy/UPMC $334,486 $334,014 $472 Meal and hockey tickets. Business is regulated by the state, but a specific favor could not be identified Unknown to the public.
Total Given $1,160,471 $1,132,048 $28,423

 

 

 

[1] Statements of Financial Interest filed by Governor Corbett available online at http://www.ethicsrulings.state.pa.us/weblink8/CustomSearch.aspx?SearchName=SearchforStatementsofFinancialInterestsforms and Campaign Finance Reports available online at https://www.campaignfinanceonline.state.pa.us/pages/CFReportSearch.aspx

Advertisements

One thought on “Corbett’s Gifts and Favors

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s