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Green Politics: Pennsylvania Greens Take GOP Donations in Ballot Drive

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Newly released campaign finance documents have revealed the Luzerne County Green Party in Pennsylvania has been receiving money from a most unlikely source — prominent Republicans. We speak with the reporter who helped break the story. [includes rush transcript]

We turn now to Pennsylvania where newly released campaign finance documents have revealed the Luzerne County Green Party has been receiving money from a most unlikely source–the founder and owner of the mercenary company Blackwater USA. Federal Election Commission filings show that Erik Prince and his wife donated $10,000 to the Luzerne County Green Party.

Other prominent Republicans who donated included a Halliburton lobbyist, a former aide of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and California’s leading anti-choice activist. The Republicans were trying to help get the Green Party’s Senate candidate Carl Romanelli on the ballot in an attempt to take away votes from Democrat Bob Casey in his race against Republican Senator Rick Santorum.

Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News helped break this story on his blog He joins us on the line from Philadelphia.

  • Will Bunch. Senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News and author of the blog

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re not dealing with a close race here in New York, but I wanted to talk about one of the places where there is a close race. Turning to Pennsylvania, where newly released campaign finance documents have revealed the state’s Green Party has been receiving money from a most unlikely source: the founder and owner of the mercenary company, Blackwater USA. Federal Election Commission filings show that Erik Prince and his wife donated $10,000 to a chapter of the Green Party in Pennsylvania.

Other prominent Republicans who donated to the Green Party chapter included a Halliburton lobbyist, a former aide of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and California’s leading anti-choice activist. The Republicans were trying to help get the Green Party’s Senate candidate, Carl Romanelli, on the ballot in an attempt to take away votes from Democrat Bob Casey in an extremely close race he has against Republican Senator Rick Santorum.

Will Bunch of Philadelphia Daily News helped break the story on his blog. He joins us now from Philadelphia. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Will Bunch.

WILL BUNCH: Yeah, hi, Amy. Thanks for having me on the show.

AMY GOODMAN: Your blog, attytood?

WILL BUNCH: Thanks for the help. Yeah, that’s what it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain exactly what you found, and then I would like to get these Green Party candidates, though not in Pennsylvania — Howie Hawkins here, running in New York, and Michael Berg in Delaware.

WILL BUNCH: Sure, and I understand they had nothing to do with what’s going on here in Pennsylvania. But what is going on here in Pennsylvania is kind of fascinating. You had a situation where — first of all, just by way of background, Pennsylvania has a very onerous and very restrictive ballot access procedure. And I think most people, no matter what their politics, look at that, are not happy about that. I mean, we obviously would like to see a situation where it’s easier for third party candidates and people with alternative viewpoints to get on the ballot. The way it works in Pennsylvania is, you need a large number of signatures from all over the state to qualify for the ballot. In fact, it’s a formula, but they figured you needed 70,000 signatures across the state, valid signatures from registered voters, to qualify, and that’s a lot. In fact, it takes as much as $100,000 to do that.

The Green Party of Pennsylvania obviously doesn’t have $100,000. But, lo and behold, they got $100,000, and the way they did that was through an effort that was totally 100% — not even 99%, but 100% — funded by conservatives and Republicans, most of whom either have a history of directly supporting Rick Santorum, the Republican candidate in the Senate race here in Pennsylvania, or supporting causes that are close to Rick Santorum, either opposing abortion rights or that sort of thing. You know, so we have a situation here where — and as it turned out, even in spite all that and in spite of spending $100,000 on a company with Republican roots that’s very controversial, that helped them to try to get on the ballot, in the end they still didn’t have enough signatures. And in fact, Carl Romanelli, barring a last minute — he may have one more appeal still out there, but I’m 99.9% sure Carl Romanelli will not be on the ballot next month.

But it’s kind of disturbing. I mean, voters want choice here, but, I mean, clearly the entire Green Party candidacy here ended up being a motivator to get liberal voters, — as some of your listeners may know, the Democratic candidate we have here in Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, is one of the more conservative Democrats out there. He is anti-abortion. He supports some NRA positions, that sort of thing. And, you know, some progressive voters would want to go for somebody with the Green Party, if there was a legitimate Green Party candidate. This was not a legitimate campaign, by any means. This was an attempt to divert votes from Bob Casey and help one of the most conservative Republicans in the country, Rick Santorum, get re-elected.

AMY GOODMAN: And how exactly did you go about investigating this?

WILL BUNCH: It wasn’t that hard. I mean, thankfully, Federal Election Commission reports go online fairly quickly after they’re filed. And now, some other sites — I know TPMmuckraker, which is a very good political site — and also, I think, some journalists from the Philadelphia Inquirer and some of the other papers around the state did get, I think, the initial tip that it wasn’t even either the Romanelli campaign or the Green Party of Pennsylvania that was accepting these donations. It was a committee that was set up called the Green Party of Luzerne County. Luzerne County is a county in Pennsylvania where Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, which is where Romanelli is from, is located. So it’s not the type of committee that people would normally — that most political reporters would most normally not look at the records of the Green Party of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, in their normal duties. Luckily somebody stumbled onto this, and when people looked into it, they found out that this group has raised well over $100,000 now, all of it from Republican and conservative donors. And it all went to fund trying to get Carl Romanelli on the ballot, either through signature gathering or then, later on, legal fees to try keep him on the ballot .

AMY GOODMAN: And this company, JSM, the Republican-oriented ballot access firm?

WILL BUNCH: Right. Some of your listeners who follow these things, may be familiar with some of the weird doings that happened in the 2004 election with people on college campuses signing petitions that they thought were, like, for medical marijuana and issues like that, and then finding out that they had been registered as a Republican, even though they were not Republicans. JSM was the company that was involved in, not all of that, but a lot of that type of shenanigans that went on in 2004. And they also did a lot of work trying pull essentially the same tactic in terms of trying to get Ralph Nader on the ballot in different states, including, I believe, here in Pennsylvania, you know, with the same principle, that Nader would have taken votes away from Kerry and helped Bush win the election.

AMY GOODMAN: And the comments of Mr. Romanelli? You’re saying that he actually — he wasn’t even receiving the money, he might not have even known about it.

WILL BUNCH: Yeah, to be honest, I don’t have a good sense of how involved Romanelli was in all of this. I mean, it’s an awkward situation, like I said. I mean, we do have this onerous law about ballot access here in Pennsylvania. You know, Romanelli wants to be on the ballot. I’ve looked into his background, and he legitimately is somebody who has, you know, in the past espoused the views of the Green Party. So he’s not a totally phony candidate. He seems like he’s a legitimate Green Party member. You know, he wants to get on the ballot in this U.S. Senate race. Somebody just, you know, shows up with the money and the means to do this, and I don’t know if he knew a lot about where this money was coming from or if he decided just to look the other way, but clearly — and I should stress that what happened here is legal. I mean, it’s legal for these conservatives to give money to the Green Party. It’s kind of hypocritical for all these anti-abortion people to give money to a pro-choice party, people —- you know, like you mentioned, the head of Blackwater USA, the mercenary company which is making millions of dollars in Iraq and they’re supporting the party that supposedly wants to pull troops out of Iraq immediately, so there’s a lot of -—

AMY GOODMAN: And the former Bill Frist aide, who now lobbies for Kellogg Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary, making a lot of money in Iraq, not to mention the oil giant, Chevron.

WILL BUNCH: Right, exactly. So you have all of those people giving money to the Green Party. I mean, it’s an incredible thing. Like I said, it’s legal, but it’s the kind of thing — and, you know, this is where journalists come in and campaign finance laws. It may be legal, but voters need to know about this. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, writing about this a few times on my blog, attytood. .

AMY GOODMAN: We are not able to go back to Michael Berg in Delaware, because we lost that studio, and we’re switching over to Washington state to talk with the Green Party candidate. But, Howie Hawkins, what is your response in situations like this, where the party is manipulated?

HOWIE HAWKINS: Well, I wouldn’t have taken any money from those sources. Carl Romanelli should have checked out his sources. I don’t know the story on whether he approved receiving that money in order to get onto the ballot. I do know Carl Romanelli. I’ve met him over the years. He is an antiwar candidate. Casey, the Democrat, is not antiwar, as well as the other issues the reporter mentioned.

But there’s another story here, and that is that the firm, that Republican-oriented firm, was hired by the Nader campaign in 2004 and apparently the Romanelli campaign this year to help them get signatures. They’re a signature gathering firm, and that’s what the money was used for. Some of those signatures were fraudulent. You know, Mickey Mouse, whatever. And then the Democrats challenged that petition. And it’s been ruled in court that the whole petition was fraudulent and that Nader in the 2004 case has to pay the Democrats $80,000 for their legal fees. And now Romanelli has to pay an even higher fee. And because once the Democrats brought them to court on that challenge, the other two candidates, because Romanelli was slated with the governor and lieutenant governor candidates, those two Green candidates dropped out. The point was, they were intimidated.

Another thing about 2004 is that the Democrats hired a Republican law firm that gave lots of pro bono help to challenge Nader’s petition in Pennsylvania. So, you know, maybe Romanelli was set up. I do know that to me the worst thing is not that they took some money from some bad sources to try to get onto the ballot, but the courts in Pennsylvania are intimidating third party candidates from even trying to get on the ballot, by putting these exorbitant fees on them or, you know, to pay the legal fees of the people that challenge them from running. I mean, it makes you think twice about even running for office. How can you deal with a $100,000 fine?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Howie Hawkins, I want to thank you very much for being with us, New York Green Party candidate for Senate. And Will Bunch, thanks for joining us. He’s a senior editor at the Philadelphia Daily News and author of the blog, attytood.

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