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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shots Fired in the 6th District

The first shots were fired in this year's race between 6th District Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach and Democratic challenger Bob Roggio. (And races for the 6th District Congressional seat have a reputation for being nasty. See the 2006 "Lois Murphy Hates Jim Gerlach" ad campaign.)
Yesterday, Gerlach sent a complaint to the House Ethics Committee alleging that Roggio filed an incomplete Financial Disclosure Form, a form all U.S. Congressional candidates must complete.

The Gerlach campaign announced this with a scathing press release written by Mark Campbell, the campaign's attack dog. (This is the same guy who brought you Lois Hates Jim). Campbell's press release included a copy of Gerlach's complaint and of the actual form Roggio filed.

Shortly afterwards, Liz Conroy of the Roggio campaign sent this response.

When I read these press releases, I thought, "Hmm. This could be a story."

So I looked into it. Turns out the only thing Roggio did that he should not have done was check a box indicating that he received compensation of more than $5,000 from a single source in 2006 and 2007. He should have counted this "compensation" as "income." This makes a difference.

The House Ethics Committee counts "income" as pay from employment. It counts "compensation" as what a lawyer gets, for example, if paid directly by a client. Candidates are required to declare the source of the income they received during the last year. However, they must declare the source of the compensation they received during the last two years. This is true unless the U.S. Government gave you this income or compensation. Then you don't have to declare it.

If the resume Roggio sent me earlier this year is accurate, he was on the Senate payroll last year. Because this money came from the U.S. Government, Roggio doesn't have to declare it. He was on the payroll of Bob Casey for PA - a fundraising group - in 2006. If money he received then is "compensation" he has to declare it. If it is income, he doesn't, because he got it two years ago. And, in all likelihood, the House Ethics Committee would define it as income.

Roggio didn't write down either of these income sources on his Financial Disclosure Form, because he didn't have to. However, he checled a box indicating that he did recieve "compensation" of more than $5,000 from a single source in the last two years and did not name the sources. Gerlach's campaign is trying to say that Roggio did this to deceive voters.

It is in all likelihood a clerical error. I say this because yesterday, a pattern emerged. In what must have been a moment of panic, Roggio responded to Gerlach's move by sending the House Ethics Committee an incorrectly filled out amendment to his original filing, listing both his jobs over the last two years as sources of "compensation," not "income." Roggio may be thinking of his "income" as "compensation."

These forms are confusing. And you know what? Only those who wear a pretty good set of partisan blinders will care about this error. Unless the government fines or prosecutes Roggio. Then we'll care.

But we won't care that much. Gerlach made his own embarrasing clerical error several years ago - an error unlikely to make a ripple among undecided voters.

The Gerlach Campaign in 2004 said it raised $2 million more than it did. Lois Murphy, his Democratic challenger that year, filed a complaint with the FEC, and in 2007 the FEC fined the Gerlach's campaign $120,000. Gerlach paid the fine and said the financial misstatement was due to computer error. It probably was.

Of course, Gerlach admitted he was wrong and paid the hefty fine. Rules are rules.

Depending on what the House Ethics Committee decides, Roggio might have to pay a fine too.

Even though this issue will have little effect on how voters vote, Campbell is trying to keep the issue alive. Check out the press release he sent out today.

By the way - if you're looking for an online database of Comgressional Finance Disclosures, it doesn't exist. You actually have to drive to D.C. to get them.

"Or you could have one of your colleagues down here pick it up for you," the guy on the phone said.

Ha ha.

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