Sestak fires back, but doesn’t dispute low staff pay

Congressman Joe Sestak isn’t disputing the fact most of his staffers are paid salaries below the minimum wage – but says Senator Arlen Specter’s campaign is only pointing that out because they’re worried about the incumbent Democrat’s approval ratings.

Sestak and Specter are running against each other in this spring’s Democratic Senate primary.

In a Friday afternoon interview, Sestak said his staffers are making a “personal sacrifice” to work on his campaign, and that Specter is going negative because of bad poll numbers. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that Arlen Specter’s negative personal attacks came immediately after another poll that shows after 30 years, only 25 percent of Pennsylvanians think Senator Specter deserves reelection,” he said. “And I think they’re panicking.”

The recent Franklin and Marshall College poll gave Specter a 33-16 percent lead over Sestak, with 44 percent of respondents undecided. Republican Pat Toomey is ahead of both Democrats in hypothetical matchups.

Sestak then went on the attack himself. “I think it’s kind of ironic for Senator Specter to give any lectures about staff, given his well-documented issues with having staff members warm up his classic Jaguar or line up squash partners when he’s traveling abroad.”

Specter’s campaign manager, Chris Nicholas, said he wouldn’t respond to Sestak’s barb, but called his opponent’s staff salaries “pathetically low,” and inconsistent with Democratic principles.

The Specter campaign provided payroll information from the fourth quarter of 2009. According to their figures, Nicholas made $7,000 a month, which translates to $84,000 a year, or $43.70 an hour, over the course of four 40-hour work weeks. (Of course, the vast majority of campaign staffers work more than 40 hours a week.) The campaign’s lowest-paid full time employee made $2,300 a month. That’s $27,600 annually, or $14.38 an hour.

According to the Specter camp’s analysis of federal campaign finance reports, the average Sestak staffer makes about $1,400 a month. That excludes Sestak’s three siblings on the campaign payroll, who earn higher amounts.

Murtha special election candidates to be chosen in early March

Democrats and Republicans will both meet in Westmoreland County over the coming weeks to select their candidates for the special PA-12 Congressional election. But the two parties will use substantially different methods to pick their nominees.

Republicans will convene a special conference on March 11th in Latrobe. Party committees from counties within the district –that would be all of Greene, and portions of Allegheny, Armstrong, Cambria, Fayette, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland – will send conferees. The selection process differs from county to county, according to GOP spokesman Mike Barley, but all attendees must be Republicans who live within the 12th.

Each prospective candidate will have a chance to make a presentation, and afterwards the conferees will vote. The candidate who wins a majority tally will be the special election nominee.  Barley says the party is doing the best it can to make the process inclusive. He says he’s not worried about a grassroots conservative backlash against the party’s pick, ala last year’s NY-23 special election. “That was a process where a handful of people picked the candidate on a conference call,” he said.  “Our process will be open. There will be an opportunity for the press to be involved in the entire meeting. We will, again, listen. Any candidate that’s interested is more than welcome to come.”

Barley said it’s too early to tell whether the GOP will try to ensure whether the special election candidate will be someone who also runs in the primary for November’s general election, which will be held simultaneously.

Democrats will gather a few days beforehand, on March 6th in Delmont. County committees from within the district will send 100 delegates to a special “recommendation convention” that will vote on a nominee. The catch? The state party’s executive committee will have a final say on who the candidate is, and could choose to completely ignore the convention’s results. Chairman TJ Rooney explains: “It is, at the end of the day, the responsibility of the executive committee. And members of the executive committee will receive and weigh information from a myriad of sources, including polling that’s been done in the district.”

Still, Rooney says the convention will play an important role in the committee’s final decision. Like their Republican counterparts, Democrats are doing the best they can to be inclusive about the selection process. “One  surefire way to blow it and make sure you don’t get it right is to not have local input and not engage the people in the 12th District,” he explains.

Rooney says Democrats will do the best they can to coalesce around one special and primary candidate. He has no idea who will emerge as the party favorite, pointing out former Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel just dropped out, and John Mutha’s widow Joyce said she wouldn’t run. “Two of the leading candidates, just in the last 24 hours, have withdrawn. It’s a little bit early.”

Rendell: Paterson making the right decision

New York Governor David Paterson is expected to appear at a press conference within the next few minutes to announce he won’t seek reelection this year. You can watch a live feed of the presser — which appears to be in the exact same room where Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned two years ago —  on MSNBC.com.

Governor Rendell appeared on the network earlier today, and said he supports his fellow Democrat’s decision. He said Paterson is “a terribly decent man who cares about the right things and makes difficult decisions for New York. It’s sad to see a decent man step aside, but the right decision for him and the right decision for New York.”

Zing! Another zippy press release from Team Specter

Arlen Specter’s campaign has grown increasingly critical of opponent Joe Sestak in recent weeks. A press release issued today continues that trend, charging the congressman with paying his campaign staffers below-minimum wage salaries. Analyzing data from  Federal Election Commission reports, Team Specter says many Sestak staffers make so little that they’re eligible for food stamps. “Sestak pays his brothe and two sisters that work for his campaign an average of $3,685 a month,” the presser reads, “but pays the staffers not related to him an average of just $1,461 a month.”

Several Sestak staffers have left the campaign in recent weeks — See PoliticsPA for more details.

Full release below:


Joe Sestak Pays Most Campaign Staffers Less Than Livable Wage
Unless They Are Related to Him

Sestak pays the staffers not related to him so little that most
Receive less than minimum wage and qualify for food stamps

Harrisburg – According to a review of his official Federal Election Commission reports, Cong. Joe Sestak pays his brother and two sisters that work for his campaign an average of $3,685 a month, but pays the staffers not related to him an average of just $1,461 a month – well below the region’s livable wage scale.

Sestak even pays 10 of the 16 staffers not related to him below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Incredibly, Sestak pays those 10 non-related staffers so little that they are all eligible for food stamps. http://bit.ly/aJGfZs

Sestak has more than $5 million stashed away in his campaign account according to his 2009 campaign expense report filed on January 30, 2010. http://bit.ly/dr5vuG

Ironically, though Sestak does not pay his campaign staff a livable wage, Sestak voted for an increase to the minimum wage in 2007, saying then: “People who work every day deserve to be treated with integrity and respect, and they deserve a living wage. No one who works for a living should have to live in poverty.” http://sestak.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=797&Itemid=30

The minimum wage is now $7.25 per hour, so a 40-hour work week yields $290 per week which averages to $1,256 per month. ($290 per week times 52 weeks = $15,080 divided by 12 months = $1256 per month). It’s common for campaign staffers to work longer than a typical 40-hour work week.

Sestak has emphasized the need for a basic living wage during his campaign for Senate. A living wage calculator created by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier of Penn State University estimates that a living wage for a single person living in Delaware County, where Sestak’s campaign headquarters is located, is $9.62 per hour. The 16 Sestak staffers not related to him are paid an average of $8.42 per hour – or 13% below the living wage. (http://bit.ly/9EFLbT)

For example, Sestak campaign staffer Jenn Medeiros was paid $574.18 a month, according to Sestak’s FEC report; the same report showed that Sestak paid staffer Jordan Libowitz $616.34 per month in October, November and December of 2009 – not per week, but per month. Staffer Joe Langdon was paid $1,108.51 per month.

Sestak’s siblings fared much better on the pay scale. Cong. Sestak’s brother Richard was paid $3,897 per month, while his sisters Margaret Infantino and Elizabeth Sestak made $3,629 and $3,527 respectively per month last October through December. The campaign salaries paid to Sestak’s three siblings accounted for 41% of the total salaries paid in that time period. In total, Sestak has paid his siblings more than $337,000 during his political campaigns, beginning in 2006.

“This is a disgrace, especially for someone who calls himself a progressive Democrat,” said John Garrity, President of the International Federation of Professional Engineers Local #3 in Philadelphia. “Cong. Sestak talks a good story on minimum wage and livable wage and wants other companies to pay it but he won’t do it himself. With Joe Sestak you need to watch what he does, not what he says.”

“This is yet another example of Cong. Sestak thinking there’s one set of rules for him, and another for everyone else,” said Christopher Nicholas, Senator Specter’s campaign manager. “Sestak needs to explain why he thinks this is acceptable behavior, paying his staff so little that many of them qualify for food stamps.”

Sestak has lost numerous campaign staff in the past several weeks (http://bit.ly/aEHDtW) and is still without a campaign manager. (http://bit.ly/8WyOZq)

In 2006, Heather Boushey, then an economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington who later worked for the Joint Economic Committee, said, “For me, it raises a moral and ethical question: if you want to live in a society where if people work they deserve to have a decent standard of living, you have to pay people that wage. Employers are making choices — these are not laws of nature.”

Specter campaign staffers were paid an average of $3800 per month during the 4th Quarter of 2009. Attached is a Sestak staff salary report.

Corbett puts out reform package — other gov candidates to appear at afternoon forum

Attorney General Tom Corbett’s campaign has unveiled its reform package. The press release is below.

Nothing too new here — Corbett says he’ll eliminate WAMs and per diems, reduce the state’s vehicle fleet and move toward a tw0-year budget process, among other measures. These policies have been part of the GOP front-runner’s stump speech for awhile now. He’s promised to introduce legislation carrying out the measures during his first week on the job.

In other gubernatorial news, the United Way is hosting a candidates forum this afternoon at the Harrisburg Hilton. The focus will be on the non-profit agencies who were hurt by last year’s 101-day budget impasse. (Here’s a story I did for NPR on that issue last summer.) Every candidate but Corbett is expected to attend. The forum starts at 1:30.

Pittsburgh – Speaking before a crowd of Pittsburgh-area business leaders, Attorney General Tom Corbett today unveiled the first of his plans to turn back on the power of Pennsylvania’s economy with the release of his government reform policy platform that focuses on changing the way things are done in Harrisburg. “To create real economic growth in Pennsylvania and put hard-working Pennsylvanians back to work, we must start from the foundation up and fix the government that guides it,” stated Tom Corbett. “I will provide an open, transparent, accountable and trustworthy government that finally puts the taxpayers of this great state first.”

Tom Corbett announced that he will spend his first week as Governor working with members of the General Assembly to introduce his plan to reform state government. “We will immediately begin the process of reforming Harrisburg and putting the people back in the people’s government,” said Corbett.

The highlights of Tom Corbett’s reform plan include:

  • 100% transparency in state government so taxpayers know how their money is spent
  • Reducing the size and cost of state government with a 10% reduction in administrative operations
  • Eliminating WAMS and discretionary funds
  • Eliminating state government paid per diems
  • Reducing the state automotive fleet to help save taxpayers $72 million per year
  • Moving to a biennial budget
  • Zero based/performance-based budgeting to make sure state agencies meet their performance goals to determine their funding
  • Capping the General Assembly “Leadership Funds”
  • Sunset and audit of state boards and commissions
  • Consolidating state services to make state government more efficient
  • Ensuring that state legislators help pay for their own healthcare plans
  • Banning political contributions and gifts during the procurement process

Tom Corbett emphasized that as we work to build trust and accountability in state government, Pennsylvania will be better positioned to grow good, family-sustaining jobs and reduce the tax burden on Pennsylvanians. With Pennsylvania facing near double-digit unemployment, Corbett says we have to work to get our business climate in order. Pennsylvania has an enormous amount of resources and Corbett says it is time we turn them into an innovative economy that makes Pennsylvania globally competitive: “As governor, I will work with you to harness our energy potential, grow jobs and economic development opportunities, build a transportation infrastructure to support our economy and better prepare our children for tomorrow’s jobs.”

“I am running for Governor because it is the time for leadership in Harrisburg, leadership that doesn’t just talk to Pennsylvanians, but listens and does the right thing,” declared Corbett. “Leadership that makes decisions in Harrisburg based on what’s in the best interest of Pennsylvanians. And that is how I plan to govern.”

To view Tom Corbett’s government reform plan in its entirety, visit www.tomcorbettforgovernor.com.

Could Judge Lewis impose a deadline on the Veon trial?

That’s what lawyers on both sides are concerned about, according to a report from the AP’s Mark Scolforo.

The trial is in its fourth week, but just eight prosecution witnesses have taken the stand so far. The Attorney General’s office has listed more than thirty people  as potential witnesses. Assuming two more people take the stand by Friday, the trial would be on pace where the defense wouldn’t begin to mount its case until week twelve.

Dauphin County President Judge Richard Lewis initially told jurors this would be a “three to four week trial.” He’s tried to extend courtroom hours in order to speed things along, but frequent sidebars, objections and mountains of e-mail evidence have kept the pace at a crawl.

Politics as Usual

It’s time for another edition of Pennsylvania’s leading political podcast. Join John Micek, Alex Roarty and me as we tackle:

–whether or not the latest effort to reform Pennsylvania’s beer distribution laws will get anywhere

–how serious Senator Anthony Williams is about his gubernatorial bid

–who’s running for John Murtha’s Congressional seat? How will Democratic and Republican leaders sort out the complicated mess of two simultaneous elections for the same spot?

–why CNBC is airing so much curling

As always, you can download the pod over at Capitol Ideas

Williams enters the Democratic primary

State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams is officially running for governor. “I’m out of the closet,” he joked at the Pennsylvania Press Club today.

Williams says he’s hired three staffers, opened up a Philadelphia office, and has already raised nearly two million dollars. Referencing recent polls showing single-digit and low-teen name recognition for the other Democrats, Williams said he’s confident his campaign will make up for lost time. “72 percent of the folks in Pennsylvania don’t even know there’s a gubernatorial race. I’m very comfortable if I’m on television they’ll at least notice there’s another guy running.”

Williams remains evasive on the source of his fundraising, saying only that his donors “come from a variety of backgrounds. Who are interested in, obviously in controlling costs, controlling spending in government, educational choice, people who are concerned about unions in Pennsylvania.” He acknowledged several Republicans have contributed to his campaign.

Moderator John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News asked Williams about a range of topics during his lunchtime appearance at the Harrisburg Hilton. Williams said he’s hesitant about the impact of natural gas drilling, but wouldn’t support a moratorium on permitting or the leasing of state forest land. He’s against gay marriage, saying “a civil contract is adequate. I have no problem if somebody wants to use a religious sanctuary for a ceremony.” Williams doesn’t think lawmakers should have been allowed to recoup lost pay after last year’s 101-day budget impasse.

Williams says his strategy will be an intense focus on southeastern Pennsylvania. He pointed to the 2002 Democratic primary, where Bob Casey carried 57 counties, but lost to Ed Rendell due to strong turnout in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

The announcement brings the Democratic primary field back up to four candidates. Williams joins Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Auditor General Jack Wagner and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel in the race.

Per diems, and other Monday links

The Scranton Times-Tribune does some digging, and turns up several northeastern lawmakers who collect state-funded lodging reimbursements, despite owning homes in Harrisburg. That includes Rep. Jim Wansacz, who collected more than $6,000 in per diems between July and October of last year. “It’s not like a great house,” he told the paper. “It’s a place where I sleep.”

When he first took office in June 2000, Mr. Wansacz said he routinely stayed at hotels and later switched to a “terrible one-room apartment,” he said. Taxpayers would have to pay more, if he submitted actual expenses for hotels and meals, he said.

“I can stay at the Hilton,” he said.

When it was pointed out he could also stay at a Red Roof Inn, he responded: “Would you want to stay four days a week in a place that’s going to be $20 a night and is disgusting?” He quickly noted he did not mean to disparage the Red Roof Inn.

Majority Leader Todd Eachus also owns a Harrisburg home, but still collected more than $10,000 in per diems during last year’s budget impasse. Spokesman Brett Marcy told the paper, “What you are getting at is whether this is permissible. …The next question is whether it’s right. We meet the threshold of whether it is permissible. He’s following the rules.”

In case you missed it, Governor Rendell appeared on ABC News’ “This Week” yesterday. He talked stimulus and economy, notably telling host Terry Moran that President Obama dropped the ball last year, when it came to effectively selling his agenda to the American people. “The best communicator in the history of political campaigning turned out in his first year in office to not communicate very well,” he said.

The Inky explains what happens if the Feds don’t approve I-80 tolling.

And the Veon enters its fourth week today. Catch all the courtroom drama from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Tracy Mauriello, who continues to live-Tweet the proceedings.

Doherty won’t endorse

Meant to post this yesterday, but had some Internet problems…

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty says he won’t be offering an endorsement to any remaining Democrats in the gubernatorial race. “I talked to the candidates [Wednesday], and I told them I wasn’t going to endorse anybody,” he told me when we spoke yesterday. “I liked them all personally, and we got along real well, so I just thought, let the voters.”

Doherty is exiting the campaign to run for state Senate. He says the idea came to light as soon as he heard Minority Leader Bob Mellow, who’s held the northeastern Pennsylvania seat for decades, was stepping down. Doherty says he can better serve the people of Scranton from the Senate — despite the fact Democrats there currently hold a ten seat minority. “We have a lot of things going on in downtown Scranton today. Like our medical school — Commonwealth Medical College, which is going to be in more need of state funding. And we need a strong advocate in Harrisburg.”

Doherty, who had been lagging far behind other candidates in fundraising efforts, refused to speculate as to whether he’d have made the switch if his gubernatorial campaign had been going better. “You know, this came out of nowhere. You look at it and say, wow I could really do a lot of good here. The other case is kind of hypothetical. What’s the degree of doing better, and the degree of more money? So I feel real good about doing this.”

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