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

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

First Sixth District Congressional Forum

What struck me most about this forum, held by the Chester County League of Women Voters at the Chester County Library on Sunday, was the candidates' closing statements.

Jim Gerlach, the Republican incumbent, said that there's more to a congressman than how he votes. He said he has a top-notch staff that is excellent at constituent services. He followed that with his standard line about how various publications have determined that he is one of the most independent-minded congressmen in Washington.

Bob Roggio, the Democratic challenger, closed with, "If you like the economy, vote for Jim Gerlach." He added that, because Gerlach has taken large sums from oil companies, he cannot be relied on to promote alternative energy.

Roggio was acting as if job number one was to criticize Gerlach and job number two was to talk about his own policies (Mark Campbell, I know you're listening. Want to lift that quote and throw it on a campaign mailer?)

Gerlach was acting like an incumbent who was sure he would be reelected - this in a district where he nearly lost three times, in a year that heavily favors Democrats.

Anyway, the point of my post is not to delve deeply into each campaign's strategy or lack thereof. It is to bring up a few issues the candidates discussed that did not appear in my article on the debate.

1) Immigration. Significant difference.

Roggio said that we should get tough on immigration. How? By increasing border security and enforcing already exist ant immigration laws. "It is illegal to hire illegal aliens ... if those laws had been enforced, we wouldn't be where we are today," he said. It is wrong, Roggio added, that 21 million illegal immigrants are taking advantage of America's tax-funded social services. He said that illegal immigrants should be returned to their homelands.

Gerlach also argued for increased border security. But he said that a "streamlined" process should be put in place so that illegal immigrants could go back to their home countries, get the proper papers, and come back to the U.S. in order to "fulfill their role in our economy."

2) Reinstating the Draft. Small difference.

Both candidates said that we shouldn't reinstate the draft.

But Roggio used the question as an opportunity to argue that Gerlach incorrectly supported the invasion of Iraq, which put an unnecessary strain on our military. He said that troops should be pulled out of Iraq and sent to "critical areas like Darfur or Afghanistan."

Gerlach said, "Defense folks tell us they are meeting their recruitment goals." He said the legislature should pass policies that will make it easier for military personnel to stay in the military.

3) Abortion. Small difference.

Both don't think the government should subsidize abortions. But while Roggio supports "comprehensive sex education," Gerlach supports "pre-pregnancy education." I have no idea what either of these terms mean, or what the difference between them is.

4) Infrastructure. Difference in detail.

Roggio argued that we need to rebuild our infrastructure. Rebuilding efforts, he said, will create jobs in these tough economic times.

Gerlach didn't disagree, but he said, "My opponent didn't say he had found a way to fund that." Gerlach pointed out that highway repair is paid for in part by the liquid fuels tax - fuel efficient cars and high fuel prices mean the government will be taking in less money from this tax. The solution? Look for alternative funding sources and possibly pursue public/private infrastructure projects. (Dan's note: For a local example of an ongoing public/private infrastructure project, see the Paoli Transportation Center).

5) The Iraq War's effect on the economy. Question not really answered.

Gerlach acknowledged that all government spending affects the economy. He added, "One thing we can't do is raise taxes as my opponent would do and expect to create more jobs ... Raising taxes, as my opponent would do, is a surefire way to send a heckuvalotta jobs overseas."

Roggio said he "agrees 100 percent" with Barack Obama's plan to cut taxes on the middle class. Ending the Iraq War, he said, will help the economy.

6) Aid to veterans.

I'm not touching this one. There were some accusations made by both candidates that I don't want to reprint without doing some fact checking.

7) The Iran Threat. Might be a difference.

Gerlach said, "We have to continue to use every economic and diplomatic means possible to get Ahmadinejad and his regime to back off nuclear weapons development ... and perhaps the Iranian people will change course."

Roggio said that the biggest threat facing the U.S. is Iran. "It's interesting that Jim Gerlach talks about diplomacy because as far as I can tell diplomacy between Iran and our Republican president began four months ago." He then said he agrees with Obama's plans for diplomacy with Iran.

OK - this post went longer than I expected. For the candidates' discussions of the economy, the environment and health care, see my article. I hope this post is useful to two or three people when they make their decision on Nov. 4.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wrapping up Gerlach's form allegations

What a sexy title for a blog post.

I got an email from Mark Campbell earlier this week asking me why in my last post on the subject I didn't explain why it was OK that Roggio left blank Schedule IV of his Financial Disclosure form.

Here's the response I sent him:

The directions on Schedule IV specify that none of Roggio's positions (unless there are ones we don't know about) need to be reported.

The Schedule IV directions:

"Report all positions, compensated or uncompensated, held on or before the date of filing during the current calendar year and in the two prior years as an officer, director, trustee of an organization, partner, proprietor, representative, employee, or consultant of any corporation, firm, partnership, or other business enterprise, any nonprofit organization, any labor organization, or any educational or other institution other than the United States.

"Exclude: Positions held in any religious, social, fraternal, or political entities; positions solely of an honorary nature; and positions listed on Schedule I."

As far as I can tell, Roggio isn't required to list the Senate job because it is with "the United States." And he doesn't have to list the Casey for PA job because it is with "a political entity."

If this analysis, as well as the one in my other post, are correct, then Roggio's first Financial Disclosure was complete and Gerlach's allegations are baseless.

However, not even the Roggio campaign agrees with my analyses.

After the Gerlach campaign sent out its allegations last week, Roggio responded by sending the House Ethics Committee an amendment to Schedule VI of his Financial Disclosure. I maintained that Roggio did not have to disclose either of his jobs in 2006 and 2007 on Schedule IV. The Roggio campaign said its lawyer advised Roggio to disclose these jobs, so he did.

"I'm sorry, I've read the form and the directions on filling it out again and again, and I just don't agree," I told Liz Conroy, Roggio's campaign manager.

"I'm going to defer to our lawyer on this one," Conroy said.

She added that Roggio might be "over reporting."

Better safe than sorry?

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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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