Diamond’s Digital Democracy

Columnist : Albert Paschall

PA Clean Sweeps needs to regain focus

For the last eight months one guy has propelled a virtual revolution in this state.  Shortly after the middle of the night, no debate, pre-arranged vote that awarded Pennsylvania’s legislators a 16% pay hike, Russ Diamond founded PA. Clean Sweep.  No grassroots organization in contemporary history has done more to rattle the foundations of the power structure in Harrisburg in such a short time.

Targeting last fall’s State Supreme Court retention elections Diamond and his brooms were given little chance of success.  This pundit said last October that if Clean Sweep scored 40% of the vote it would be a huge success.  The morning after the election Justice Russell Nigro was unemployed and Judge Sandra Newman is now known as the just-about-made-it justice.

In the wake of that victory two dozen veteran legislators are surrendering their seats this year.  From one end of the state to the other incumbents are taking their gold watches, golden pensions and calling it a day.  Most of them hadn’t had a significant opponent in years.  Diamond’s organizing efforts threatened every one of them even if most of his candidates were mere novices, wildly idealistic or just outright crackpots.

Harrisburg’s establishment has tried to ridiculously malign Diamond for taking some $7,000 in reimbursements for his efforts.  The Clean Sweep organization has repaid him for travel expenses, website development, telephone use and printing.  It’s a pretty lame claim when you consider that his reimbursement was about half the baseline raise that any legislator would have received, and about 20% of the annual pensions that most of the general assembly’s retirees will start to collect from the state treasury come January.

Considering the millions of dollars the retiring incumbents and their challengers would have dropped this year, spending $7,000 to rattle this entire state is a pittance.  It’s a minor fraction of what the two major candidates in the state’s U.S. Senate race are expected to spend.  If Clean Sweep raises 100 times that amount it won’t come close to what Governor Rendell’s campaign hopes to splurge to keep him in office.

Clean Sweep was the fire alarm that bellowed in the dark, crowded theater that we call a state capital.  Some are running for the exits, the rest that are left behind smell the smoke of a new public awareness of what goes on in the halls of the capital.  Diamond’s Digital Democracy has kept the fire burning and should have kept it stoked right up until November’s election.

But it looks like Clean Sweep’s straws have been singed in the political firestorm.  Published reports indicate that Diamond signaled the organization’s hastily assembled Board of Directors that he might try an independent run for the Governor’s office.  This seems to have fractured the agency.  Considering he’d need some 60,000 bona fide signatures on a petition for an independent candidacy, that’s a fairly tall order.  Destroying those petitions in the State Supreme Court will be the largest bipartisan, single minded effort since the night last July when the pay raise was approved.  Considering Diamond’s record in breaking up Pennsylvania’s coziest club, he’ll be out of the race with a long, drawn out bang of a gavel.

In the meantime politicized by his potential candidacy, Diamond’s marvelous creation will flame out.  That would be a shame because the fire it has started needs constant tending.  If he publicly renounces a run for elected office Russ Diamond will have the chance to institutionalize a sorely needed, energized grassroots watchdog agency in the Commonwealth.  Someday Clean Sweep could be his richly deserved legacy

Albert Paschall
Senior Fellow
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.