Chic fundraiser shows how tough lobby reform in Pennsylvania will be to sell Spotlight on PA
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HARRISBURG – For the first time, Pennsylvania’s top legislators are expected to step down to control the influence of lobbyists who have also been in the moonlight as political consultants, confusing the worlds of politics and politics on Capitol Hill.
In the coming weeks, House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Pro Tempore Senate Speaker Jake Corman plan to unveil a proposal to ban the practice as part of a lobbying reform program. The hope, Republicans said, is to restore public confidence in government.
Yet even as the final details of the plan are being drafted, Corman is embarking on a posh fundraiser hosted by one of three companies that has cornered the market on the business practice that lobbying reform legislation Corman aims to stop. Harrisburg-based companies called The Mavericks raise money for elected officials, run their political campaigns, and then pressure them once in office.
The $ 5,000 ticket fundraiser will take place this week at a PGA golf course in Arizona, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Caucus and Spotlight PA.
For Corman, who made transparency a cornerstone of his agenda when he rose to the top Senate post earlier this year, the fundraiser could undermine the message that he is serious about the introduction of good governance reforms.
“They [Corman and Cutler] deserves recognition for recognizing the problem, but it will take effort to make it work with any degree of credibility, ”said Barry Kauffman, former executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, which advocates government transparency and accountability. . The proof will lie in the details of the legislation, he added.
Jason Thompson, spokesperson for Capitol Corman, said he could not comment on campaign issues. He said lobbying reform is one of the Republican senator’s “highest legislative priorities” this session, and that many hours have been spent developing and perfecting the final plan.
Records show that Corman’s main campaign committee and a separate executive committee he heads paid Maverick Finance and Red Maverick a total of $ 932,000 from 2015 to 2020.
Over the past year, Corman has come under scrutiny for his close connection to Ray Zaborney. The senator hired Zaborney’s lobbying partner as his chief of staff last fall and helped raise funds on a golf outing in California for a secret nonprofit organization started by Zaborney that s’ is engaged in political activity.
In emails to the Caucus and Spotlight PA last week, Zaborney said that in mid-April he quietly dropped his lobbying affiliation. He said he did it after consulting with Corman.
“I am not a registered lobbyist as of April 16,” he wrote. “In consultation with Senator Corman and in an effort to comply with the bill, I believe he will table, I have opted out and I will not be lobbying the legislature or the administration.
Referring to previous Caucus and Spotlight PA reports on his ties to Corman, Zaborney added, “I hope I didn’t ruin your 18th episode of this story, but maybe you’ll spend some of that. time to look at other companies that refuse to take the actions that we have all these years. I doubt it tho 🤷♂️. “
When asked if Corman gave him advance notice of the legislation, Zaborney played down his initial statement: “I haven’t consulted in a way ” what should I do? I consulted to find out if there was a part that prohibited policy advice and lobbying BECAUSE MY PLAN WAS TO COMPLY VOLUNTARILY IF THERE IS. “
Through his Capitol spokesperson, Corman said it was no secret in Harrisburg that he was working on lobbying reform and that details about it were being released.
Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen in Washington, DC, said there had been national pressure to ban lobbyists from campaign fundraising – and for good reason.
“It’s an integral part of the influence peddling game,” said Holman. “It’s almost funny if it wasn’t so sad.”
The exact details of Corman and Cutler’s reform package have yet to be publicly disclosed.
And while a note seen by The Caucus and Spotlight PA shows that executives are in favor of banning lobbyists from also working as political consultants, he has been silent on whether such consultants would be barred from working as political consultants. have a financial interest in lobbying firms.
Although Zaborney is no longer a lobbyist, he wouldn’t say if he owns or still retains a financial interest in the lobbying firm he founded, which over the years has grown into one of the Capitol’s go-to companies. , representing major cannabis customers. , the gambling, energy and health sectors.
He also wouldn’t say whether Jen Zaborney, who previously ran Maverick Finance, continues to have financial or professional ties with the company, only claiming that neither he nor he receives “compensation” from him.
One trip, two fundraisers
Maverick Finance hosted Corman’s fundraiser this week at the Phoenician, a luxury resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. There, the Republican Senator will raise money for one of his campaign war coffers: the Build PA PAC, which raises millions of dollars each year for his and other GOP campaigns.
He’s slated to take advantage of yet another golf fundraiser there with an even higher prize: one to benefit the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, a national organization in which Corman, along with Cutler, were recently given roles. leadership.
The committee is a branch of the largest executive committee of the Republican state, a political organization based in Washington, DC. In 2020, the RSLC spent tens of millions of dollars on state legislative campaigns, with money coming from companies and billionaire Republican donors like Sheldon Adelson and family members of the United States Secretary of Education. the Betsy DeVos era, as well as small donations from across the country. , according to campaign funding and IRS filings.
The national organization’s fundraiser kicks off Wednesday with a reception – with Corman as a special guest – and continues the next day with golf at another posh Scottsdale golf club, Troon North. The club’s two 18-hole courses stretch through natural ravines and foothills where “giant granite boulders litter the rugged landscape of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert,” according to its website.
The cost: $ 30,000, which includes a foursome of golf and a three-night stay at the Phoenician.
Corman’s fundraising event begins on May 6 with an evening reception and continues the next day with golf at the Stadium Course in TPC Scottsdale. The course is most famous, according to its website, for its “par-3, 16th hole that turns into a” Colosseum “during tournaments and offers fans one of the most exciting settings in professional sport.
This spring, Corman was asked by the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee to be its energy chairman. Its parent organization, the Republican State Executive Committee, had a significant imprint in Pennsylvania’s legislative election in 2020.
He spent $ 1.7 million to help Republicans across the state maintain their comfortable majority. And he spent an additional $ 330,000 on a few competitive Senate races, all of which went to Zaborney’s Red Maverick Media – the only Pennsylvania company RSLC paid directly to produce and run ads in 2020, according to documents from Zaborney. campaign financing.
Money paid to Red Maverick has raised questions, Spotlight PA and The Caucus reported, as much of it was spent on commercials in the Dauphin County-based State Senate game between incumbent Republican John DiSanto. and Democratic challenger George Scott.
Red Maverick Media represented the DiSanto campaign and worked for the RSLC. And although a campaign is prohibited from coordinating with an outside group like the RSLC, Zaborney said his company adheres to federal rules allowing a company to do both as long as there are “firewalls.” »Internal preventing coordination. Zaborney worked for the DiSanto campaign while another Red Maverick co-founder worked with RSLC, he said.
As part of the RSLC’s larger organization, Corman and Cutler were both recently appointed to the RLCC executive committee, connecting them with GOP leaders from other states in a joint effort to maintain power in state legislatures.
Cutler did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would also be attending the Arizona event.
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