, the Northampton County Republican Committee
's acting chair, Bob Kilbanks, had a small news conference. After being stalled by DA John Morganelli, Kilbanks has finally asked Attorney General Tom Corbett
to investigate campaign consultant Tom Severson, the King of Sleazeball Politics. According to The Express Times
, Corbett's spokesperson has already stated, "We'll follow the evidence wherever it leads."
It's leading in some strange directions.
Severson is the hired gun who, during the primary, suddenly turned ronin
and launched his own anonymous smear campaign
against district judge candidate Brian Monahan. In July, he conducted a push poll
aimed right at council member Ron Angle. Just a few weeks ago, he was happily smearing both Angle and council wannabe Peg Ferraro with numerous anonymous robocalls and negative mailers
. There has been no disclosure of the expenses involved, even though this is required by elections laws. If you expect John Morganelli to investigate, don't hold your breath.Morganelli and Severson, Sitting in a Tree ...
The King of Sleazeball Politics
They're pals. At least that's what Morganelli tells me. Their relationship goes back at least to 1991, when Severson ran John's campaign against then incumbent DA Don Corriere. That race, incidentally, turned nasty.
Morganelli and Severson have at least one thing in common - they both like dirty politics. A few short months ago, Morganelli was caught, red-handed
, using a family email account to smear a potential AG rival. Of course, he was doing it anonymously. He told journalist Brett Lieberman
that whoever had used his own family's account was just being "cute and stupid."
How about dishonest?
Morganelli must have a hard time suppressing his laughter when someone complains about elections laws. In his sixteen years as DA, I can't think of a single prosecution. Knowingly or not, he has given Severson the green light.
But Sleaze Politics Pays
The phrase, "King of Sleazeball Politics," is used often to describe Severson. I didn't coin it. It first appeared in a 1991 Morning Call
story. Severson got that title the old-fashioned way - he earned it. Let's review some of his campaigns.
In 1989, county exec hopeful Jerry Seyfried saw his lead dwindle as anonymous telephone calls
, made in the waning days of the campaign, warned voters that Seyfried had accepted money from the owner of a local landfill. DA Don Corriere, challenged by Morganelli, complained they actually used callers who disguised themselves as state ethics commission investigators. Seyfried won. Barely. Corriere went down.
Severson also plays on prejudice
. When Len Gruppo was running for the state senate in 1998, Severson distributed an anti-welfare campaign mailer containing a photo of mostly black applicants, standing in line, creating the false impression that most welfare recipients are black.
In 2003, Severson's Precision Marketing was paid $9,600
in public money by DA John Morganelli's Drug Task Force to distribute 20,000 "informational" mailers
. They included a large photograph of Paula Roscioli, four times the size of other staffers. She just happened to be running for judge at the time. DA Morganelli assured the Express Times
(4/9/03) that Precision Marketing was not
doing Roscioli's campaign. While technically correct, Morganelli's statement was misleading. Severson was still running the show, but just used another company. And the idea of using taxpayer funds to promote candidates was pushed again by Severson this Spring. Bucks County commissioners paid him $67,000 in taxpayer money
for a thinly disguised campaign ad.
Last year, when Joe Brennan
was in a four-way dogfight to capture the Democratic nomination for a state rep seat, he was assailed by three mailers, some of which falsely portrayed
him behind bars. After turning over a few rocks, Tom Severson ran out. Brennan's opponent falsely claimed that, since he was never charged for Severson's services, he had no obligation to report this in-kind contribution. To this day, the in-kind contribution appears nowhere on any campaign finance report
These are just a few examples of Severson's modus operandi
- anonymous and misleading calls, appeals to prejudice, drug task force money to promote a candidate, misleading mailers and flying below the radar of our disclosure laws. As disgusting as these tactics sound, Severson has become rich using them.
Tom Severson: To Know Him is Not to Love Him
Severson usually operates under the corporate umbrella of Precision Marketing, Inc.
, where he is listed as company prez. Between 2000 and today, that company has collected $9.9 million
from candidates seeking state offices.
But when Severson wants to stay under the radar, or is working for Dems, he'll use MJR Services, Inc.
, a New Jersey corporation whose Pa. address just happens to be where Precision Marketing is located. MJR has collected $281,000
from state office hopefuls since 2000. DA John Morganelli and Judges Roscioli and Panella are part of this gaggle.
It doesn't stop there. Severson keeps everyone guessing with Political Strategies, Inc
, a California corporation. Although it's not even registered in Pennsylvania
, state senator Lisa Boscola paid that outfit $43,659.65
in 2006. And guess what? Finance reports filed by some local candidates indicate this California corporation just happens to have the same address as Precision Marketing! Since 2000, the total amount paid to this business, in state races, is $170,522
Keep in mind that this total figure -$10.35 million
since 2000 - does not
include payments to other companies I know nothing about, or payments made in federal and local races
. And it only reflects payments that are on the radar screen.
The Anti-Monahan Sleaze
Although Severson's sleaze tactics have made him wealthy, few local leaders respect him. Morning Call
and Express Times
archives report some of their comments.
Former Norco GOP chair Charlie Roberts
(1994): "He's working both sides of the fence. ... I don't trust him. ... He's done more to hurt this party than anyone. ... "How can he work for Seyfried and Ferraro in the same election? How is working for Seyfried going to do anything but hurt Ferraro's chances? Tom Severson works for his pocketbook. I work for the Republican Party."
Former Norco GOP Chair Larry Kisslinger
(1991): "He did not handle his affairs with me in an honest way 99-1/2 percent of the time. ... I hope he makes $1 million. I hope he's comforted with the money surrounding him."
Former Norco Councilman Jim Hemstreet
(1991): "If telephone calls are being made ... you have a right to know who you're talking to, what they're paid. ... That is really deceptive campaigning. It's like turning your campaign over to a hired gun."
Norco Judge Emil Giordano
(1994): "I never heard anything good about the guy. ... It's sleazeball politics, and he's the leader of the pack."
Morning Call columnist Don Russo
(1994, then a member of the GOP): "Severson basically goes to the candidate with the money."
District Attorney John Morganelli
(1994): "I went to him because I heard he was the best. I wanted to hire the best person to do the job. I didn't care what party he was. The party thing didn't bother me, and I don't think it bothered Mr. Severson. He's staying with me."
Morganelli Covers For His Pal
When I first told you
about the smear campaign against magisterial candidate Brian Monahan last May, one of Seversons's apologists told me that once the election is over, "the only person still whining about this will be you."
Well, the election's over, and it looks like the local Republican party is whining, too. And the state AG is listening. This matter is far from over. In fact, it's just starting. Here's some of what Bob Kilbanks had to say last week (with links to some of the documents he mentions)."This all began during the primary cycle when some very ugly flyers were sent out against a local District Justice candidate. They had no disclaimer, which is required by Pennsylvania's state election laws on every campaign piece to inform the public about the source of any political information that they receive. There were accusations flying all over Northampton County as to who had sent the three mailers. The mailing permit was traced to a person [Pat Vulcano] who said he had no knowledge of its use. An examination of the paperwork at the Post Office yielded nothing because the signature was unreadable. At that time, local blogger Bernie O'Hare presented the situation to District Attorney Morganelli. Mr. Morganelli told Mr. O'Hare that the matter, as he saw it, did not rise to a prosecutable level. He felt that there was case precedent from Ohio [McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n] that made this allowable under the First Amendment. A few days later, and under question of lawful filing date, an independent financial report was filed at the Voter Registration office under the name of 'John Doe.'
"The report arrived complete with the Ohio decision attached to it and a notarization for a 'John Doe.' The Notary works in the offices of a local politically-connected attorney. [This attorney just happens to be Morganelli's campaign treasurer, Jay Leeson]."
Severson's "John Doe" report, of course, is bullshit. He clearly paid more than $500 to send these mailers about a week before the election, but failed to report this expenditure within 24 hours as required by our campaign finance laws. Three mass mailings cost much more than the $861 claimed, and those payments had to be made before the primary, because that's when they were mailed.
How could Leeson's notary, a secretary in his office, acknowledge an anonymous signature? Because he tells her to do so. But a notary exists to identify the person appearing before her, not obscure that person. She must have personal knowledge or satisfactory evidence
in the form of a driver's license or other form of identification.
The Dirty Politics Continue
According to Kilbanks, "The Republican Committee wrote to Mr. Morganelli and asked him to reexamine the papers because we were afraid that this precedent could lead to only more of the same unattributed smear literature, and perhaps even uglier campaign shenanigans. Mr. Morganelli replied to the Committee with the same answer he gave to Bernie O'Hare."
Rather than address Severson's failure to file a 24 hour report or his misleading "John Doe" statement, Morganelli instead incredibly concludes Severson has a constitutional right to defame someone anonymously. "[W]e will not attempt to enforce these provisions."
Here's my problem. Since Morganelli has a conflict in any allegations against Severson, it's not his call whether or not the elections code should be enforced. In fact, his letter to the Attorney General only dealt with one aspect of the elections code, and was even misleading on that point. Kilbanks' allegations should have been forwarded to the Attorney General so that office could have decided for itself whether an investigation is warranted. Morganelli also should have clearly disclosed the existence of a conflict. He was very quick to condemn
an attorney general investigating his own campaign contributors in Bonusgate, but is clearly turning people away when they complain about one of John's pals.
Fortunately, Kilbanks has forwarded all material
to Pennsylvania's Attorney General, and the criminal investigation unit is now paying close attention, something that Morganelli has successfully prevented (knowingly or unknowingly) for years.
Because Morganelli refused to make a prompt referral to the Attorney General last Spring, the dirty politics have continued. According to Kilbanks, "Our fears were realized in this past election cycle as unattributed, and very nasty, smear phone calls, whether or not they are considered 'legal,' invaded homes across Northampton County. All of the calls traced back to one phone number [actually, it's two phone numbers - 484-548-6400 and 484-548-6413] that [were] listed as 'not working,' but ownership was traced to a data management corporation in King of Prussia that does robo-calls."
Amazingly, these are the same phone numbers used to do the push polling against Angle in July. The number 484-548-6413
shows up as MCS Industries on Caller ID, and is also the number Lamont McClure used for his robocalls. His campaign consultant? Tom Severson.
Mailings with content identical to these anonymous robocalls
were posted with the Northampton County Democratic Committee's bulk mail permit. Lamont McClure
, Tony Branco
, John Maher
and the local Democratic party
were obviously using Severson. Against Angle alone, there were twelve negative mailers
(estimated cost - $36,000) and twenty-one anonymous robocalls (estimated cost - $31,500). I have not spoken to Peg Ferraro recently, but know of at least four negative mailers and ten anonymous robocalls.
Nothing in the bogus campaign finance reports filed to date reflect anything close to those costs. A concerted effort has obviously been made to keep expenses off the books and under the radar.
If you have any of the negative mailers directed at Angle or Ferraro, please email them to me at BOHare5948@aol.com. I will make sure they are forwarded to the right offices next month.
On December 6, when the 30 day post election reports are filed, it will be pretty clear that there was an attempt to steal this election.
I was more than a little surprised that The Morning Call has an editorial
about what's going on. Once again, it appears that Morganelli is actually providing cover for Severson. If he has a conflict, as he insists, then why does he continually try to defend Severson?