Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, often mentioned as a Republican front-runner for the 2010 governor’s race, is running for re-election this fall. With twelve indictments in the "Bonus Gate" scandal under his belt, including two guilty pleas, Corbett is aggressively campaigning across the state, making his case that he should be returned to Harrisburg. The Bulletin recently sat down with Mr. Corbett for an in-depth interview:
TB: The Aristotle Project is a multi-million taxpayer-funded computer system bought by Rep. leader John Perzel, ostensibly to gather data on constituent concerns. According to press reports, however, Aristotle has been given to the House Republican Campaign Committee, a political organization engaged in campaign activities. Since this would seem illegal, why has no one been indicted on this issue?
TC: I can’t comment on that at all. We have an ongoing grand jury investigation, so I can’t comment.
TB: Let me phrase it another way. Since some consider the Aristotle case "low hanging fruit", do you expect indictments after the election?
TC: Let me ask these people who say, "it’s easy," a question. Are they prosecutors? Have they ever conducted an investigation? Do they understand that everyone is presumed innocent, and that everyone is entitled to defense lawyers? That everyone is entitled to certain rights? These things don’t necessarily allow for an investigation to move at the speed which they think it should. I would point out that the investigation of state senator Vince Fumo by the U.S. Attorney’s office here in Philadelphia took four years. And it certainly appears that there was some "low hanging fruit" there. Should he (former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan) have charged Fumo early on? No! Of course not. He conducted a thorough investigation. The only difference is that I have to run for office.
My opinion? Many people in Harrisburg never thought anything would happen with this investigation, and that Tom Corbett would never charge anyone, for all the political reasons we discussed. My opinion is that everyone has been surprised. And because we have charged people, it affects everything because people now understand we’re deadly serious about this investigation.
TB: Has anyone from the HRCC been subpoenaed?
TC: That’s not public information, so I can’t comment on that.
TB: Let’s talk about the always-contentious casino issue. Have you received support and contributions from any gambling interests, such as Louis DeNaples, who holds a casino license in the Pocono?
TC: People have to be careful how they word that, and my opponent is careful NOT to word it correctly. (He does it) to deceive. Which I think is interesting because the Attorney General has consumer protection power, and one of them is deceptive trade practices…deceptive advertising. Have I received money from Louis DeNaples? Yes. It’s on record with the Department of State for the 2004 campaign. This was LONG before Mr. DeNaples ever applied for a license, which I think he did in late 2005. So at the time he made his contribution, it was not gaming-related. In fact, nobody had applied for a gaming license at that time. So for my opponent to say I received money from gaming interests is absolutely false. He has to get his facts correct.
TB: As a follow up, Mr. DeNaples is a convicted felon and is frequently mentioned as having ties to organized crime. How do you maintain credibility if some of your biggest donors are being investigated? Can potential investigations be conducted impartially?
TC: First of all, they, the gaming interests, aren’t allowed (by law) to give us money. Secondly, absolutely we can be impartial. If anyone who gave me money thought that by doing so, it would stop me from investigating them if they did something wrong… well, they better ask for a refund, because that’s not going to happen! And I don’t think anyone ever gave me that money thinking they were going to get special favors. They give me money because my record and my integrity are out there, and we’re going to enforce the law. A prime example is the Bonus investigation. Did I receive money from legislators in the 2004 campaign? Absolutely. Am I conducting the investigation? Absolutely. Have I taken any money from legislators since we began conducting the Bonus investigation? Not one cent! I will not take any money from legislators, Democrat or Republican. And if we receive it, we send it back.
TB: Last question on this topic. You are Republican, so obviously more Republican than Democratic legislators gave to your 2004 campaign, prior to Bonus Gate. Since no members of the GOP have been charged, how do you answer the charge that favoritism is being shown to the Republicans?
TC: To date. No Republicans charged to date. It’s not a witch-hunt, because, to me, a witch-hunt is something that isn’t true. We just had two people plead guilty! We charged twelve. Ten waived, and two pled. And I assume, based on what I heard, that the judge is holding the charges for trial. That’s not a witch-hunt. When one of the top defendants in this case, the former chief of staff to House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (Mike Manzo) admits guilt, how is that a witch-hunt?
TB: As we head into the election, an issue on many peoples’ minds is potential voter fraud. Has there been fraud, or alleged fraud, during your administration? Do you foresee it happening next month, especially in Philadelphia? If so, how will you combat it?
TC: We have had referrals concerning voter fraud in other elections, but we haven’t had sufficient evidence to charge anyone. That’s the hardest part— charging people. Because I’m on the ballot this year, it makes it a little harder for us to push the envelope on going after, say, people registered in multiple locations or Mickey Mouse being registered. The district attorneys have primary jurisdiction in this area, but also the U.S. Attorney and the Department of Justice. I’m a little disappointed in my former organization for not looking at this issue more closely in Pennsylvania over the last four years, and that they haven’t seen fit to dedicate any resources here. (Corbett was the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania). I wish I had a lot more lawyers and a lot more agents in this regard, but I just don’t have them. So we will look at the cases referred to us.
TB: Let’s look at voter fraud from a political standpoint. The legislature passed a bill mandating that voters show ID, yet Gov. Rendell vetoed it. What are your thoughts on that?
TC: Disappointing. It was disappointing. We show an ID to get into almost every type building in downtown Philadelphia. Yet when we exercise our right to vote, we don’t have to show ID, even though we’re worried about voter fraud. Just about everybody has an ID today. What’s so hard about showing ID? The vast majority of people have a drivers’ license. So what we’re really talking about are the people who don’t have a license. What’s so difficult about getting a photo ID? If someone registered fictitious addresses in all the different wards, and then goes around on election day (to different polling places) and claims they live in that ward, that’s very difficult for us to investigate.
The final installment of the interview will encompass the political scene in PA, the Attorney General race, and the economic crisis.
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]