Dear Gov. Rendell:
I noted with interest that your current approval rating stands at just 39% — the lowest point in your career. Despite denying my repeated requests for a one-on-one interview, I nonetheless offer my thoughts as to why you have fallen out of favor with so many Pennsylvanians.
Conflicts Of Interest
First and foremost, the citizens of the Keystone State are fed up with what they see as huge conflicts of interest permeating every level of your Administration, with you being the focal point of many.
The appearance of a governor showing favoritism and special treatment to his big-dollar political donors, close friends, campaign fundraisers, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, one’s former law firm, raises eyebrows and sinks people’s faith in government.
For example, Ballard Spahr, the law firm where you worked from 1999 to 2002, billed a total of $25,000 in legal fees to the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) in the three years which preceded your election as governor. Since then, Ballard has billed over $3 million. Considering that you were the self-appointed Chairman of the Authority during this bonanza time for Ballard, many still wonder at this peculiar arrangement.
Making matters even more suspect, your former Chief of Staff, John Estey, voted on your behalf as the Chairman-designate at virtually every meeting. Since you made him the outright Chairman three months ago, he continues to vote to receive and accept Ballard Spahr’s legal bills to the DRPA. As a partner at Ballard, Estey is, therefore, voting to put money into his own firm’s coffers — a situation that offends many of your constituents and would never fly in the private sector.
Additionally, Mr. Estey is also the chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA), an agency of the Commonwealth which you control. Not surprisingly, Ballard Spahr also happens to be the PRPA’s outside counsel.
But what takes the cake is Ballard Spahr performing nearly $800,000 worth of legal work for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission with no contract. That’s not a no-bid contract, mind you. It’s no contract at all. Must be nice to be Ballard Spahr.
From assisting Al Boscov (of Boscov’s department stores) with a $35 million taxpayer-funded bailout, after Boscov and his family contributed $164,000 to your campaigns, to awarding a no-bid contract to a Houston law firm, whose lead partner donated $91,000 to your campaign efforts, an increasing number of Pennsylvanians are, quite frankly, skeptical of your integrity. Addressing that should be your first priority.
Your Comcast "High-Speed" Connection
Earlier this year, you publicly scolded the Sunoco oil company for its decision to lay off 750 workers, calling the company’s action "unconscionable." Yet you were notably silent concerning the 3,000 layoffs — four times the number at Sunoco — that Comcast has executed in the past year.
Why the disparity? A look at the campaign money trail might well provide the answer.
Since your 2002 election, Sunoco’s political action committee (PAC) contributed $55,000 to your campaign, with Sunoco employees donating an additional $2,650.
During that same time period, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives, have donated $634,350 to you. Additionally, Comcast spent at least $100,000 on your inauguration festivities in 2007, being designated a"Benefactor," the highest level of contributor.
One of your closest allies, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen (and your former Mayoral Chief of Staff), has contributed $80,000 to your campaigns. His wife, Rhonda, donated an additional $156,000. Interestingly, Mr. Cohen served as chairman of Ballard Spahr prior to joining Comcast. (Comcast is represented by Ballard Spahr).
Speaking of Ballard Spahr, the firm has contributed $481,000 to the your campaigns, and its attorneys donated an additional half-million dollars. Also, the Philadelphia Future Political Action Committee, registered at the Ballard office, pumped $471,000 more into your coffers. Mr. Cohen serves as that PAC’s treasurer.
And the address on your campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia — where Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.
It all ties together, doesn’t it?
No New Taxes
Being a member of the media means that I’m not very bright, but pushing for new taxes might not be the best idea for winning the budget fight. We have never taxed ourselves into prosperity, but to increase tax rates during a severe recession is simply ludicrous. Your budgetary math has been fuzzy, to say the least, further reinforcing the notion that you are completely out of touch with reality.
Just one more suggestion. The next time someone asks you the amount of your paycheck, you probably shouldn’t answer, "I wouldn’t have a clue what I get paid in a month." It doesn’t come across too well for the 99.9% of Pennsylvanians who do actually need to know what their income is. After all, they have budgets to balance.
Your Teflon is fading, Governor. You need, for once, to forget your own interest and think of those whom you swore to represent. It’s time to get Pennsylvanians working again and re-instill a faith that their governor is a man of integrity.
Otherwise, the only legacy you will leave will be one of greed and personal ambition.
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]