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Jailhouse Gang?

Santorum ad misleadingly portrays Casey's "campaign team" as a posse of lawbreakers and suspects, though none actually work for Casey.

September 15, 2006

Modified: September 15, 2006

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Summary

 

Republican Senator Rick Santorum's newest ad features a Bob Casey campaign meeting – inside a prison cell.  Referring to the men in the room as Casey's "campaign team," the ad accuses "many of Casey's largest contributors" of being convicted felons or under federal investigation.

In fact, none of the "campaign team" members portrayed in the ad currently works for the Casey campaign, and only one ever did have an official role.  One of the four died two years ago.
Further, while these men or political committees they controlled did donate large sums of money to Casey at some point, all but one of the contributions were to previous Casey electoral efforts.  And two of the men mentioned in the ad have contributed small amounts to Santorum as well.

Analysis

 

Senator Rick Santorum's ad "Corner Bar" began running Sept. 13.  The ad asks viewers to "meet Bob Casey's campaign team," as the camera scans around a conference table.  The camera stops at each nameless man at the table while the text tells how much he's contributed to Casey and briefly states his run-in with the law. The camera pans out to show that the meeting is actually taking place in a prison cell. 

Santorum Ad "Corner Bar"

Santorum: I'm Rick Santorum and I approve this message.
Announcer: Meet Bob Casey's campaign team.
(On Screen: Aerial view of a darkened conference room)
Announcer: A Philadelphia politician who gave Casey almost 400 grand.
(On Screen: Casey Contributor, $382,000 now under FBI investigation)
Announcer: A Philly businessman who gave Casey 31,000.
(On Screen: Casey Contributor, $31,000, Charged with Extortion) 
Announcer: A New Jersey developer: $100,000.
(On Screen: Casey Contributor, $100,000, Sentenced to 2 Years in Jail) 
Announcer: And several more of Casey's largest contributors are under investigation. Including Casey's hand picked finance chairman.
(On Screen: Casey Finance Chairman, $100,000 Under Federal Investigation)
Announcer: The more we learn about Bob Casey, the more concerned we ought to be.
(On Screen: Camera pans out to reveal the meeting is taking place in a jail cell).

Anonymous Contributors

At the beginning of the ad, the words 'actor portrayal' appear at the bottom of the screen. Viewers are never told the names of the alleged knaves portrayed by the actors. However, supporting materials provided to FactCheck.org by the Santorum campaign specify who they are. 

The "Philadelphia politician" is Vincent Fumo, a state senator from Pennsylvania's first senatorial district for almost thirty years. Fumo gave $408,834 from his campaign committee to several of Casey's campaigns. He has recently been investigated by the FBI, IRS and the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible extortion surrounding $17 million in corporate donations from Peco Energy to a charity. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the donations were allegedly solicited from the company by Fumo, who opposed Peco's attempt to deregulate electric rates. The government is looking into whether Fumo used any of the money politically or personally. Fumo's last contribution to Casey was in 2004 during his gubernatorial campaign, and he never worked for any Casey electoral efforts.

The "Philly businessman" is lawyer Ron White who gave Casey $31,000 from his Citizens Watch 2000 PAC. White, who last donated to Casey in 2001, died of cancer nearly two years ago. At the time of his death, he faced more than thirty counts of extortion and conspiracy in a pay-for-play contract scandal with the city of Philadelphia. He, too, never worked for any Casey campaign.

The "New Jersey developer" is Charles Kushner and the "hand-picked finance chairman" is Robert Feldman, each of whom have given Casey $100,000.  The Bergen County Record reported that Kushner served one year of a two-year sentence for lying to the Federal Election Commission and filing false tax returns. Kushner was sentenced to prison in 2004, two years after his last donation to Casey. Feldman has been a major political fundraiser in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He has never been formally charged with a crime, but his close dealings with Ron White and Candido Negron (see below) have led the feds to investigate him. Feldman is the only one who can be said to have had an official role with any of Casey's campaigns, and that was in his 2002 gubernatorial race. He last contributed to Casey in 2004.

Correction Sept 18: We originally reported, relying on Santorum's own backup material and a local newspaper, that Robert Feldman's last official association with a Casey campaign was his gubernatorial race in 2002.  After we posted our story the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, and the Casey campaign confirms, that Feldman had an official position in Casey's successful campaign for State Treasurer in 2004.

The "several more" Casey contributors are identified by the Santorum campaign as Candido Negron, Christopher Fekos, and Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV).  Earlier this year the FBI started an investigation into Negron, who has given Casey $167,500, for allegedly making contributions to Anibal Acevedo Vila, the governor of Puerto Rico, using the names of other individuals to avoid campaign spending limits.  Negron last gave money to Casey in 2002 during his bid for governor, but didn't face legal trouble until 2006.

"Largest Contributors"?

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review , Christopher Fekos was charged this summer with bank fraud, money laundering and other offenses in a 13-count indictment. Rep. Mollohan recently stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee because of a probe into his personal finances and allegations that he earmarked federal funds for non-profits he helped control.  The federal investigation is continuing, and Mollohan has not been formally charged. 

Calling Fekos and Mollohan "major contributors" is a stretch.  According to Santorum's own research, Fekos gave Casey a total of $250 in 1999 and Mollohan's political action committee, Summit PAC, gave Casey the federal maximum of $2,000 in June 2006.  Mollohan's PAC donation is the only contribution from any of these men that went towards Casey's bid for the Senate.  If these two represent Casey's "major contributors," then we'd submit that the son of the former Pennsylvania governor is in serious fundraising jeopardy.  (He's not, though -- for a  list of top contributors to Casey's current Senate campaign, go here).
It should be noted that none of the investigations surrounding these contributors involve Bob Casey. 

Past Relationships

The first line of this ad would lead a reasonable viewer to conclude that all these "campaign team" members are currently part of Bob Casey's campaign staff.  That is not the case for any of them. Casey has sought political office numerous times, being elected auditor general in 1996, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002 (though losing in the primary to current Governor Ed Rendell), and most recently winning his current post, as state treasurer, in 2004. Counting his current bid for Senate, that is four campaigns in the last decade. 

Santorum spokeswoman Virginia Davis told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Casey's character and his past associations are relevant.  "Casey has surrounded himself with several people that are now in trouble with the law," said Davis.  "These same folks have given Casey hundreds of thousands of dollars during the course of the time he's run for office."

We see a bit of a double standard at play here. Santorum's campaign hasn't mentioned that two of the alleged miscreants have also donated to him. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Christopher Fekos, one of the "other contributors" mentioned in the ad, has  given a total of $1,500 to Santorum since  1996, including $500 for Santorum's current campaign. Robert Feldman (Casey's "hand-picked finance chairman") donated $1,000 to Santorum in 1997 and  2003.  The Inquirer reports that the 2003 donation from Feldman was donated to charity by the Santorum campaign, but makes no mention of the 1997 contribution. 

The total of $3,500 contributed to Santorum by these two is loose change compared to the money they contributed to Casey and the almost $42 million Santorum has  raised  during his political career. Still, by Santorum's own logic, they're part of his "campaign team" too.

-by James Ficaro

Sources


Larry Eichel, "Santorum ad impugns ethics of Casey 'team,'" Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 Sept. 2006.

Jason Cato, "Ex-Dormant man indicted for fraud," Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 29 June 2006.

Carrie Budoff, John Shiffman, & Mark Fazlollah, "Phila. ties in probe of Puerto Rico race," Philadelphia Inquirer, 22 June 2006

Herb Jackson, "Officials kept Kushner's cash after guilty plea," Bergen County Record, 24 April 2006.

Erin Einhorn and Chris Brennan, "Meet Bob Feldman, Political Financier," Philadelphia Daily News, 23 Jan. 2004.

Mario Cattabiani, "Records: Pa. paid Fumo's lawyers," Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 August 2006.

Richard Simon "Not all ethics clouds darkern election day," Los Angeles Times, 2 Sept. 2006.