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Monday, November 26, 2007

Severson's Attempt To Steal Election Exploding in His Face

Last week, 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 ...

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.

The King of Sleazeball Politics


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.

But Sleaze Politics Pays


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.

Tom Severson: To Know Him is Not to Love Him


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."

The Anti-Monahan Sleaze


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.

Morganelli Covers For His Pal


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.

The Dirty Politics Continue


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.
Update: 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?

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bernie, would you post an address where we can send contributions for body armor?

Anonymous said...

well done Bernie...

Anonymous said...

This is the promise of the political blogosphere delivered. Nice work.

Chris Casey said...

Nice, old fart, have you made your arrangements with your undertaker yet? You know you have ruffled their feathers. Keep going, some of us have your back.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

The MC editorial references a "false choice" between the First Amendment and open elections citing the example s anonymous Federalist and Anti-Federalist proponents debating the proposed Constitution way back when.

Let's leave aside the weak but obvious argument that the MC's example is taken from before either the Constitution or First Amendment were ratified and therefore were not in effect.

The MC's argument is a straw man. Publius, et al were not running for office, nor were they paying for the publication of their materials. They were the functional equivalent of anonymous letters to the editor. Something, I believe, the MC does not allow. Perhaps, if the MC wants to live up to the historic example it is touting in its own editorial, it should allow polemic letters to the editor to be anonymous and allow this sleaze to be aired publicly and in the light of day for all to examine.

Anonymous said...

10:12 anon

PS - MC aside - great work & ty.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Six comments telling me I've done a good job? Where have I gone wrong?

Demothug said...

Anon 10:12

The same thoughts were running through my mind as I drove to the office this AM - I was gonna write a post tonight but you beat me to it.

I think the distinction is crucial to this "case" .. should it wind up traipsing through the courts.

Good Work!

river said...

Bernie, that was a fantastic posting. It is guys like TS that have made me so sick of politics that I don't even watch the 24 hr news channels anymore. I do like Morganelli because he is not afraid to go after all the illegal immigrants here that 4/5ths of the rest of the country is afraid to do. But sleaze ball politics belongs in another country. NOT in America.

J. Spike said...

I'm a Political junkie and I don't watch the 24 Hour infotainment "News" channels either.

Aside from Olberman (Accomplice to sideshow Bob) and his Worst person in the World. And stories 5-3.

Those channels have as much to offer as my Corgi on News.

Wait my Corgi has more facts than Fox and CNN Headline.

I suspect other names we all know will come out in the Severson story.

Demothug said...

Yup - still waiting to see a story on what Severson did to Frank Yandisevits when he challenged Julie Harhart after her first term.

Larry Kisslinger said...

Bob Kilbanks had to say last week
"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.."

Correction Bernie and Bob but Severson "began" his slease during my R Chairmanship '86-'88 and I fired him from NorCo R committee! There was a full front page mcall
Sunday section A article at the time concerning his and my issues.
BTW, Charlie Roberts, at the time,
chastised me for going after Severson! Takes some time for others to catch on, I guess? larry@kisslinger.com

A.J. Cordi said...

"Six comments telling me I've done a good job? Where have I gone wrong?"

We all make mistakes.

Good work!

Anonymous said...

Severson is the same guy who was sued for malpractice for the bad advice he gave to the Monroe County GOP candidate for DA back in the early to mid 1990's...and the same guy who was sued by his former business partner for pushing him out of the business...

river said...

I guess Severson will never be the next Mr. Rogers on tv then :):):):):)

Larry Kisslinger said...

Anonymous 1:53 PM said...
"Severson is the same guy who was sued for malpractice for the bad advice he gave to the Monroe County GOP candidate for DA back in the early to mid 1990's...and the same guy who was sued by his former business partner for pushing him out of the business."

The very same, I warned Corsa about Severson then they joined up til law suit. Takes some time for others to catch on, I guess?

BTW, since then Mr. and Mrs. Corsa are local consultants you can trust! larry@kisslinger.com

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the well documented article. Tom is all that...and more. All bad.

Having said that, the US Supreme Court has already ruled on this subject:

http://tinyurl.com/ym9ztl

Don't look for anything to come of this from a legal angle. The key is to have nothing to do with people that use the slime ball.

Anonymous said...

What a joke. The Northampton County Republicans are more concerned with political consultants and bashing the voter registration office than actually helping candidates win elections. Monahan lost because Corpora is very popular on SS and Panto turned out a big vote, not because of the stupid mailer. Landslide McClure, a Severson client and Morganelli protege, could have easily been beaten if NC Republicans had a clue.

What matters are good candidates and good campaigns, consultants are merely tools. You just have to pick the right one for the job. Ultimately candidates are responsible for the message put out by any consultant.

J. Spike said...

larry.... Mark Pazinahnich went on to win the GOP nomination in that same race did he not?

Look how he turned out.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:26,

I appreciate the link. Actually, I provided a link to the McIntyre decision in the body of my post. I've even read it. Relying on that decision is a mistake. Here's why.

The Ohio statute bans all anonymous campaign speech. The Pa. statute does not ban anonymous speech at all. It only requires that a person who spends more than $100 must disclose that he is paying to have the message sent. The author need not be identified.

The legal angle should be pursued because the problem here extends way beyond the anonymous mailers. It goes into campaign finance reports that are completely bogus. That's been going on with Severson for years. He flies below the radar as much as he can get away with.

Jake said...

Great Work!

People want the Truth and not the Illusion of it. It has never stopped amazing me how low the standards for Truth can be and how candidates and elected representatives have no regard for it. The more I read about Morganelli, the more my opinion of him being for sale is reinforced.

Michael Drabenstott said...

Outstanding work. Thanks for being such a vigilant watchdog and doing what you can to protect an increasingly fragile electoral process.

Anonymous said...

Say it ain't so, John!

Say it ain't so!

not so casual observer said...

The trouble with this political consultant is that he attacks candidates with whom he has a personal grudge, with his own resources and without the knowledge of any of the candidates.
He simply tries to use the system to destroy people with no reason but hatred an revenge.

I have to say thanks to Bernie for exposing this person and his actions, and his cronies as the insults they are to good government

Anonymous said...

annon 10:25

After years in Pol. that is the MO for many politicians. I have seen people destroyed and fired over some goofy old political vendetta and no other reason. Even the so-called good guys are capable of it.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Anon 4:07.

It is a shame that political consultants engage in negative campaigning (negative campaigning which has been going on since the time our country was founded - let us not forget that people. Negative campaigning is nothing new). However let us think about this. If both parties put forth good candidates who had a clue about issues facing their community coupled with campaign knowledge, then consultants would play a very small part within the campaign process overall.

If you have strong people who are not lazy who are willing to keep up on community issues and run a disciplined campaign and understand how to do so, then you would have better candidates without the desperate need for consultants.

So it is fair for you to criticize those who are not strong candidates for whatever reason that may be? Is it fair to criticize the parties? Is it fair to be critical of people on this blog who at times don't really seem to have a clue themselves or offer a solution? I don't know the answer but like Anon 7:04 said, we need good candidates.

Oh and on a side note the cable news shows aren't news. Please don't call it news. It's entertainment.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:34,

If you're running for office outside of a small place like Nazareth or Hellertown, I think you need a consultant. No matter how strong you are on the issues, you need someone who can deliver your message to the right addresses and who can maximize the use of your time. Let me give you two examples.

1) Schwartz was a good candidate, and the Rs blew it by not giving him the support he needed. He was strong on the issues, and would have beaten McClure with a little help.

2) Barron, with limited resources, used a good consultant, and managed to pull off an upset. He was a strong candidate, true, but was running against a popular incumbent. Without Levi Price helping him steer his mailings to the right places, I doubt Steve would have won.

I'd agree that the best consultants are the ones who are invisible during the election and who don't make themselves an issue. I spoke with one consultant after the election concerning a race, not knowing she had been the consultant. She was ecstatic that I had no idea that she was running the campaign.

I also think there are times when you need to engage in negative campaigning. I don't mean mudslinging. But if someone has a lousy record, I think the voters need to know that.

For that reason, Severson is a bad choice. In too many races, his tactics become an issue instead of the actual issues.

Lady Rep said...

Bernie, you are right (again)! When the tactics are written about as much, or more, than the issues, then there's a real problem. It seems in Northampton County we are getting tired of having to deal with lousy process. It interferes with the meat of our elections. It is also interesting to review the track record of the campaigns that have employed this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

The issue is Morganelli's complicity and conspiring with Severson. He did it with Seyfried's bizarre failed re-election campaign. He does it with judicial campaigns all the time.

Follow the money....u will never know how much severson really takes in as the bags of cash are paid directly to his firm.

And Morganelli knows it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Follow the money....u will never know how much severson really takes in as the bags of cash are paid directly to his firm."

The amount of money showing up on campaign finance reports does not seem to match the amount of mailers and phone calls. That's why I maintain the legal angle is very important, and that McIntyre is just a red herring designed to keep folks from looking closely.

Anonymous said...

It will never reach this point: but I would like the following under oath to speak whether monies were paid directly to PMI--Seyfried's inner circle of Morganelli, Jay Leeson, Ed Redding, Steve Barratta and Jerry.

Now, add anyone who was endorsed actively by Morganelli for Judge--Barratta and Roscioli in particular.

They all sent money or had supports, companies (Like Chrin Like Perin) send cash to PMI.

That is the issue. Not what Severson puts out on mailers. It is the unreported campaign cash and the never documented donations.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I agree completely. That's the real issue. That's the real source of my concern. Expenditures on those reports never seem to match what Severson is up to.

Anonymous said...

From Anon 12:34

Bernie,

Schwartz did not run a good campaign. He didn't need the Republican Committee. Yes he knew the issues, but that was it. Was he out vigorously knocking on doors and meeting voters? No and that makes him a lazy and bad campaigner. Knocking on doors in local elections (yes even county district elections) wins races. Was he attempting to raise money to get out his message? Obviously not. How do you beat someone when you have limited resources? You become visible and you do that by going door to door. Of course McClure wasn't going door to door. If Schwartz had made himself visible by door knocking and introducing himself to the voters of that district he probably would have won. So I strongly disagree with you on this one. He was not a good candidate.

Barron was running county wide so that's a different story. I can see the need for a consultant.

Point being is this. You and everyone else on this blog has a hard on for Severson, and that's fine. You have every right to. I never met the guy nor do I plan on it. But maybe instead of going after the middle man we should all get to the root of the problem which is finding good candidates.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, the upset about the Barron-Schimmel race occurred before the election day. The knowledge of who Schimmel was using for a consultant, was enough that a bunch of R's didn't vote for him.

O_o

not usually Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie,
I agree with the comment about finding good candidates. However, evil political consultants do disrupt the process and chase away potentially good candidates by framing attacks so that even a good guy with a less than perfect past can be made to look like evil incarnate. And TS has specialized in those types of attacks on candidates, and has negatively impacted the political process. And any candidate, or party that uses TS' services contributes to the impossibility of getting the best candidates to come forward and run for office. His destructive influence in the political process coupled with his vow to "piss on the grave" of my Pop when Dad passes have inspired intense dislike and distrust of the man.
Thanks for your presentation of this, thanks for keeping this in the front of people's minds, because as educated members of the electorate, we deserve better candidates, and won't get them as long as the likes of Severson muck up the process.
We will continue to have your back.

Lady Rep said...

RE: "...finding good candidates..."

Would you be interested in working full time, spending every other waking moment setting up a campaign team, being away from your family basically every night and weekends, calling numerous people to ask them for money, opening up your family and life to inspection and public comment, and putting yourself on the line to lose after all of that effort? Very easy to say, much harder to do.