Pennsylvania Democrats indicted for challenges to Greens

By Carl Romanelli, Pennsylvania Green Party

Although it has been two years since I was prevented from running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania under the Green Party banner, it has been an ongoing saga. Finally, the PA Democrats’ transgressions are being revealed. Harrisburg was buzzing in July as thirteen high ranking Democratic Party officials were indicted on charges of theft, conflict of interest, and conspiracy. Some of these charges were related to a crushing petition challenge of the Carl Romanelli U.S. Senate campaign, where I was assessed over $80,000 in costs owed to the lawyers for the Democrats, and was subsequently denied a bid for senate.

The PA Attorney General (AG) charged Democrats with illegally using state workers and state resources and that they paid hefty bonuses to the workers for partisan political work. Nearly four million dollars of taxpayer money was wrongfully used on these political projects between 2004–2006. Among those charged are former Democratic Whip for the PA House of Representatives, Michael Veon; current representative, Sean Ramaly (D-Greene County), former Chief of Staff to House Majority Leader Mike Manzo, his spouse Rachael Manzo, and nine others. If convicted of all counts, the 13 individuals will face cumulatively 1,873 years in prison. It was the weight of these potential sentences which induced staffers to reveal vital information to the cases.

It appears that most of the money was used in the effort to remove my name from the 2006 ballot, and for the effort to displace Ralph Nader from the ballot in 2004. In the challenge against me, the Democrats are accused of using a caucus of up to 36 staffers to research the campaign signatures for flaws, negative public relations, and other dubious activities. In the Nader case, the same technique was used and a caucus of up to 50 state workers was used. This is significant, as it appears the only way Democrats in PA could banish the Greens and others from the ballot was through gross misuse of taxpayer funds and by committing serious constitutional crimes against those who dare challenge the old party duopoly. Though the indictments are new, the accusations are not. Nader, the Greens and I have consistently complained about “blatant and criminal abuses” to their rights of speech, assembly, due process, and association.

The scandal has become known as “bonusgate” since the grand juries were convened in 2007. AG Tom Corbett indicated more arrests were coming and his investigation is not limited to Democrats alone. Corbett advised he felt he had to move on the Democrats first as they were destroying evidence. For example, Veon apparently destroyed a hard drive containing 2006 records and Manzo allegedly instructed an intern to shred personnel records from the summer of 2006. Nearly 31,000 emails were deleted concerning 2004, but investigators were able to recover them. There is a clear pattern of conspiracy waged against Nader in the recovered information.

The Green struggle for ballot access in Pennsylvania has been arduous. In 2006 the Pennsylvania Green Party nominated its first candidate ever for the office of U.S. Senate. Pennsylvania has always had extremely unfair restrictions regarding third party and independent ballot qualification, but 2006 was uniquely difficult. For a Democrat or Republican to qualify for the PA ballot, he or she needs to collect and submit the signatures of at least 2,000 voters. In comparison, the minimum number of signatures needed by third parties was 67,072—the highest standard ever. The Greens were the only third party to qualify in 2006 through the filing of nearly 100,000 signatures. This is the most signatures ever collected by a candidate of any party.

The PA Democrats filed a challenge to the submitted signatures. They alleged that signatures were “invalid” and demanded review. The court ultimately ordered both sides to be present in Harrisburg from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday with nine “volunteers” from each side. The purpose was to rid the review of any blatantly invalid signatures.

This stretched out for eight miserable weeks with the Democrats’ lawyers thinking of every possible way to defeat signatures. PA Greens were able refute them and validate most of the signatures. Twice the Democrats tried in a sweep to wipe out nearly 40,000 signatures by challenging the circulator or the notary. Lawyers for the Romanelli campaign, locating the notaries and circulators, defeated those claims. This discredited the charge of “widespread fraud” made by the Democrats.

But when the Democrats, undaunted, asked to amend the challenge to discredit the same signatures on different technicalities, the judges (Democrats) allowed it. Though this was unprecedented, the Green campaign complied.

By October 2006 the court had sided with the Democrats and removed my name from the ballot. Further, the court decided that since “so many government resources” were involved in the review, I had showed “bad faith” in defending the challenge and should pay costs to the Democrats’ lawyers.

The judge later approved a bill submitted by the lawyers for the Democrats, assessed at over $80,000.00 in costs on the Green U.S. Senate campaign and directly on me as an individual. I appealed the decision, since the PA election code only calls for legal fees or costs to be assessed when fraud, forgery or some other crime has been committed. Although this was not the case with the Green Party filing, the costs were still imposed. Through the many appeals, attorney Larry Otter fought hard and kept defending the Greens. By January 2007, the court decided Otter should also be assessed costs.

For the Green Party, it has been two years of fighting in PA. But the injustice is coming to light. By July of 2008, I continued to press forward despite the appeal hanging on the thinnest of threads after languishing before the PA Supreme Court for months without a decision. In July, the PA Greens legal team filed a motion to re-open or remand the case for new testimony based on new evidence. I also want the Democrats to pay legal fees. Nader and his team filed a similar action with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, asking for the $80,000.00 judgment against him to be vacated.

This is not over yet. I vow to continue to fight until we prevail over these political bullies.