Monday, June 04, 2007

What Perzel is up to....

OFF THE FLOOR: Perzel’s Philly money barrage on Gabig prelude to 2008?


A Capitolwire Column

By Peter L. DeCoursey
Bureau Chief

HARRISBURG (June 4) - Want to know why so many people are worried about a potential 2008 House GOP primary purge by House Speaker Emeritus John Perzel?

Because he tried to defeat a fellow House GOP incumbent in the 2006 primaries with a late $54,000 barrage financed by Perzel's Philadelphia-based inner-circle unions and donors.

Look at the state’s campaign finance Web site, at the last two 2006 reports filed by Carlisle Borough Councilman Frank Rankin. Those reports show Rankin raised $84,000 to wage a primary challenge last spring against state Rep. Will Gabig, R-Carlisle.

More than $54,000 of that money came in the last few weeks of the campaign from Philadelphia unions and donors closely tied to Perzel. Several donors and other sources confirmed that Rankin only got that Philadelphia money after Perzel asked for it.

Gabig is ideologically very conservative and was a Perzel critic within the caucus, and someone who thought Perzel was to blame for the pay-raise fallout that engulfed the 2006 elections.

Neither Perzel nor Gabig returned Capitolwire’s requests for comment, so I don’t know why Perzel did it, or what Gabig thought when he first saw that flood of Philadelphia money coming in against him.

We do know that Gabig won the primary narrowly. And I suspect that flood of Philadelphia money may have been a factor when Gabig voted for John Perzel for Speaker this past January.

All $54,000 came in during the last three weeks of the campaign.

How well hidden was it?

I asked House Minority Leader Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, who was House Majority Leader, Perzel’s House GOP partner a year ago, about it. He looked puzzled as I said Rankin got $10,000 from the Philadelphia Carpenter’s union, $10,000 from the Philly electricians' union, $10,000 from the Philadelphia and D.C. Painter’s unions, $7,000 from various Philadelphia Teamsters unions and $10,000 from Philly GOP power broker/fundraiser Charlie Kopp. Another $5,000 came from Northeast Philadelphia Perzel insider Ronald Panepinto. Perzel helped his brother Paul run for the Supreme Court in the 2007 primary election. Another $2,000 came from other unions, RJR Nabisco and pet Perzel donors, all from Philadelphia or its suburbs.

Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester, a Perzel critic who helped engineer Perzel's downfall in the Speaker's race, wrote in an email: "I think the figures and contributors speak for themselves. What interest could they possibly have in a primary race in Carlisle?"

Smith told me: “You know more about it than I do,” adding that he didn’t know about it then, or now.

Gosh, that must be comforting to the six House Republicans who voted against Perzel for Speaker this January. They are now relying on Smith’s assurances that no House GOP or Perzel-directed primary purge is aimed at them.

Schroder and five other House Republicans - Brad Roae of Venango, Kerry Benninghoff of Centre, Jim Cox and Sam Rohrer of Berks and David Steil of Bucks - cast the votes which toppled Perzel from the speakership in January. They and 99 House Democrats elected Speaker Denny O’Brien, R-Philadelphia. Schroder says someone has already begun to recruit GOP primary challengers against them next year.

Schroder is upset by that, and outraged that Perzel left the House Republican Campaign Committee $700,000 in debt. He’s even angrier about Perzel’s cancellation of two checks, $50,000 each, from Perzel’s committee to the House Republican Campaign Committee, last January. Three weeks after Perzel lost the speakership and his seat atop the House GOP.

After Schroder spoke up about this last week, Smith told reporters: “Curt's talking a little bit too much. I'll leave my conversation with him in private, where it belongs.”

Asked if Smith has asked him to stop talking publicly about intra-GOP strife, Schroder wrote in an email: “No he has not told me to stop but I'm sure he wishes I would. As long as such a threat exists, however, I will deal with it as I see necessary. If the threat goes away, maybe I'll shut up.”

Smith also told reporters that he has tried to reassure House Republicans no purge is coming: “I have stated very clearly to my caucus that if we are serious about recapturing the majority, it is easier to start with 100.”

For those counting, that is the 101 elected House Republicans minus O’Brien. Smith, laughing, said: “I don’t count him.”

Smith snorted at the idea the House GOP’s $700,000 debt is unusual or daunting: “As a matter of fact that is one of the things Rep. Schroder said that’s not really accurate. That debt is no different than we usually have. It has always been June or so until we cleared up the debt. We expect to be free and clear of debt by the middle of the summer. It’s been tougher this year because of losing the majority and the friction in the caucus.”

And it may stay tough because more evidence keeps piling up that the “friction in the caucus” is growing rapidly. It will only intensify because Rankin’s campaign finance reports demonstrate that the $400,000 in Perzel’s campaign account is just one arrow in his quiver. Perzel can also aim his Philadelphia deep pockets donors at any other House Republican he targets. As he did to Gabig.

Schroder wrote in an email: “Will Gabig is a good member of our caucus. ... If Will Gabig was targeted, no one should feel safe.”


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