Posts Tagged scandal

Cauldron of Corruption


Bribery, mail fraud, racketeering, criminal conspiracy, official repression, conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering, bank fraud, wire fraud, obstructing the administration of law – these are just some of the charges filed against Pennsylvania Democratic elected officials in recent days.  It is clear the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania has a corruption problem.  It is big.  It is deep. And it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Allegations of corruption extend from the national level, with the New York Post reporting presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton is the target of a federal criminal investigation; to the state level where Attorney General Kathleen Kane has now been indicted on criminal charges; to the local level where officials in Reading and Allentown are ensnared in an investigation which has already resulted in one guilty plea.

The Democrats’ cauldron of corruption boiled over in recent days with the indictment of Philadelphia congressman Chaka Fattah on a variety of federal charges, the long expected Kane indictment, a guilty plea entered by the President of the Reading City Council, all of this amid reports the Democratic State Committee belatedly cut ties with a political consultant who is a central figure in the Allentown/Reading investigation.

Although details remain sketchy, it would appear the federal investigation into corruption in Allentown and Reading are tied to the case against former state treasurer Rob McCord who stepped down earlier this year and plead guilty to shaking down treasury vendors for campaign contributions.  Rumors continue to circulate in Harrisburg others may become snared in that trap as well.

Unlike past incidents of corruption, like Bonusgate and Computergate which resulted in the convictions of both Republicans and Democrats, the current tidal wave of wrong-doing is exclusively a Democratic affair.  With Governor Tom Wolf engaged in a budget stand-off, and statewide elections for a seat in the U.S. Senate and three constitutional offices on the ballot next year, Democrats face electoral Armageddon.

The immediate policy impact is on the state budget process where Wolf and legislative Republicans are at loggerheads weeks after the constitutional deadline for having a new spending plan in place.  The governor is fighting for a historic increase in both taxes and spending; the GOP refuses to comply.  Unlike past budget battles, the current stalemate has attracted little public attention and thus no pressure on either side to cave.

Governor Wolf already has the tough sale of building support to raise taxes on virtually every Pennsylvanian.  But, with his party mired in wave after wave of corruption, voters will be even less willing to entrust him with more of their tax dollars.  Although the indictments do not involve either Wolf or his administration, they cast all Democrats in a negative light giving Republicans another advantage in the budget stand-off.

As 2016 approaches the pervasive corruption in the Democratic Party will give Republicans a ready-made issue.  The position of Attorney General is on the ballot next year and the longer Kathleen Kane clings to power the greater becomes the GOP’s chances of reclaiming an office it has traditionally held.  Even though the Democratic nominee is likely going to be someone other than Kane, he or she will be handicapped by Kane’s corruption.  State Treasurer is also on the ballot in 2016, with Rob McCord having left office in disgrace the advantage again will tilt to the eventual Republican nominee.

All of this, of course, will be affected by the national political climate.  Republicans will have to be competitive in Pennsylvania at the Presidential level for “row office” candidates to have a chance.  At this early stage, with all the controversy swirling around Hillary Clinton and a 17-person Republican primary, it is difficult to forecast what that dynamic might be next Fall.

This much is certain: Pennsylvania Democrats have the most serious and wide-ranging corruption problem since the days of the Milton Shapp Administration back in the 1970’s.  And that gave rise to the governorship of Dick Thornburgh and Republican governance in Harrisburg.  If the current drumbeat of corruption continues history may be about to repeat itself.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org)

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Kingmaker? Pennsylvania’s Delegation Influential in a Brokered Convention


Pennsylvania’s presidential primary, held in late April after more than half of the other states have already voted, means residents of Penn’s Woods generally have little impact on the selection of the nominees of the two major political parties.  Legislation has been proposed to move the primary to an earlier date, however, it is unlikely to happen in time to take effect for 2016.

But, there is a scenario in which Pennsylvania’s delegation to next year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio could play a major role in the selection of the nominee.  That would be if the primary season fails to yield a candidate with a majority of delegate votes triggering a rare brokered convention.

In recent decades the quadrennial nominating conventions have been little more than stage managed coronations of the candidates who already had collected enough delegate votes through the primary and caucus process.  The last time a convention really mattered was in 1976 when incumbent President Gerald Ford arrived in Detroit still locked in a battle with Ronald Reagan for the nomination.  Ford prevailed, but was unable to shake off the after effects of the Watergate scandal and lost the General Election to Jimmy Carter.

Prospects for a brokered GOP convention in 2016 grow greater every week.  That’s the frequency with which candidates are entering the presidential contest with 15 or more candidates ultimately expected to compete.  A recent Quinnipiac University poll found five of those candidates – Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee – all tied for the lead with 10% of the vote each.   It could be argued those candidates constitute a top tier, but clearly no one has taken command of the race.

It is, of course, still early in a climate where even one or two news cycles can completely alter the political landscape, but the Republican bench is so deep every one of the top five, and just about all of the others, can lay claim to a base constituency and make the argument that they are qualified to become the next president.  Few, however, can outline a plausible path to the nomination.

The winnowing process could still occur, especially if one candidate manages to win two out of three of the earliest contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and then go on to dominate the so-called Super Tuesday primaries.  But, 15 candidates with diverse geographic and ideological bases within the party presage a Balkanization of the vote and the allocation of delegates.

If the Republican Party arrives in Cleveland with no one candidate having a majority of votes, a quirk in Pennsylvania’s delegate rules could put the commonwealth’s delegation in a strong position to be the king-maker.  Unlike most other states, all of Pennsylvania’s delegates run uncommitted.  Republican delegates are elected by congressional district, with an additional group selected by the Republican State Committee.  Pennsylvania will have 71 delegate votes, making it the seventh largest delegation.  While candidates for delegate can express support for a particular presidential candidate, they are not legally bound to vote for that candidate at the convention.

This means Pennsylvania’s delegation will arrive on the shores of Lake Erie technically uncommitted to any of the candidates and free to wheel and deal with potential nominees.  Assuming any degree of unity among the delegation, Pennsylvania’s delegate votes could be enough to put a candidate over the top or at least provide major momentum in a brokered scenario.

It would take all the stars aligning for this to play out, but in a year where there are an unprecedented number of candidates participating in a long string of primaries and caucuses anything is possible.  If it does come down to a brokered convention Pennsylvania might once again become the Keystone State.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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Tampering with Transparency


Transparency has become a buzzword, one of those principles that politicians of all stripes pledge fealty to, but often in practice fall short.  For those who value the ability of We the People to know what is happening in our government, the past couple of weeks in Penn’s Woods have been bad ones.

For starters, the grand jury investigating whether Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaked confidential court information recommended the state’s Shield Law, upholding the right of journalists to keep confidential sources confidential, be changed to remove that protection when it relates to grand juries.

In a misguided effort to preserve the secrecy of such proceedings, the jurors placed blame for the leaks on the reporters writing the stories rather than on the individuals – including possibly the Attorney General – who actually leaked the information. Weakening a critical protection of journalistic freedoms is akin to blaming the escaped horse for the farmer having left the barn door open.

Shield laws are important because officials – elected, appointed and hired – who see to hide information from the public generally are willing to use the power of their position to harass, punish or otherwise frustrate the news media to prevent transparency from occurring.  Simply put, the ability to protect the confidentiality of sources makes it possible for journalists to do their job precisely at the time it is most important for them to do so.

The other hit to transparency came just days after Governor Tom Wolf took office when he attempted to fire the director of the state’s open records office.  Since its inception over six years ago, the Office of Open Records has become a vital tool for the media, watchdog groups, citizen activists and concerned voters to obtain information from governments at all levels that seek to deny access.

Although the state’s Open Records Law can and should be strengthened, it has brought about a higher level of transparency to government.  It is critically important for the independence of that office to be maintained, free from interference by both the executive and legislative branches of state government. That independence was honored by governors, Democrat and Republican, until now.

Former Governor Ed Rendell appointed Terry Mutchler as the first director of the Office of Open Records. The law states that executive directors shall be appointed for a six year term.  So, when Republican Governor Tom Corbett took office she continued in her job – actually past the six year mark as Corbett did not act immediately to name a replacement when her term expired.  That move came in early January during the waning days of his administration when Mutchler resigned and Corbett named Erik Arneson as the new executive director.  Arneson, a former state senate aide, played a key role in crafting the Open Records law making him eminently qualified for the job.

Within days of his inauguration, Governor Wolf, objecting to the timing of his predecessor’s action, fired Arneson.  Arneson’s dismissal triggered a firestorm of protest from senate Republican leaders who have correctly asserted that the job is not an “at will” position, but rather an appointment to a fixed term.  Arneson, claiming he could not be fired, showed up for work the next day as did the acting director appointed by Wolf.  A court battle now looms.

Setting aside the political stupidity of starting a turf war his first week in office, a lot more than a battle between a Democrat Governor and Republican Senate hangs in the balance.  If Governor Wolf succeeds in turning the Office of Open Records into a political fiefdom it will become impossible for it to fulfill its mission.  Above all, the Office of Open Records must remain free from political pressure.  How willing would an executive director who serves at the will of the governor be to grant open records requests which the administration wants to keep information hidden?

Candidate Tom Wolf ran for office promising a “fresh start.”  But by seeking to politicize the Office of Open Records, Governor Tom Wolf has fully embraced the worst aspects old fashioned politics.  There are many ways for a governor to confront a legislature, but tampering with transparency is a foolish way to begin.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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Open Records Law Key to Restoring Penn State Credibility


Penn State University is fighting efforts in Harrisburg to place state-related universities, of which Penn State is one, under provisions of the commonwealth’s Open Records law.  This would require the folks in Happy Valley to provide the same transparency as other beneficiaries of the taxpayer’s largess.  As the botched search for a new president of the state’s marquee institution illustrates, the need for such a law clear and compelling.

Even the Jerry Sandusky scandal failed to bring about the structural changes needed to transform the insular and secretive cultural of Penn State’s governing board and administration.  While much about the sordid Sandusky saga remains the topic of debate, there is no doubt the cloistered culture of the university’s board resulted in a climate that allowed the Sandusky wound to fester.  That culture allowed the tragic sexual abuse of young men to continue, destroyed a storied football program, ruined careers, and cast a shadow of shame over a once proud educational institution.

That the “reforms” so far have been little more than window dressing has come into focus as Penn State seeks to select its next president.  Rather than conduct the search in an open and inclusive process, a sub-set of trustees have dominated the search to the point that they have excluded board members who are not part of the inner circle.  Trustee  Anthony Lubrano, elected after the scandal and an independent voice on the board, has been highly critical of the selection process and the failure to significantly involve all board members.

The process so far appears to ensure two things: the new president will take office under a cloud of controversy, and that person will be beholden to the power clique which made the selection.  This is clearly not the way for Penn State to begin repairing its tattered reputation.

If you believe that where there is smoke there is fire, the fact the trustees are undertaking what will be one of their most important decisions in such a manner then it is reasonable to conclude that little or nothing about the institution’s governing culture has either been learned or has changed because of the Sandusky scandal.

Penn State, like virtually every other educational institution, constantly has its hands out asking for more tax dollars.  Like baseball, apple pie and hot dogs, public education at all levels is a cultural icon.  So taxpayers are generally supportive. But, more money does not necessarily guarantee a better education.  So in a time of tight budgets, education spending has come under more scrutiny.  Penn State, along with the other state-related institutions wails and rends garments because their fiscal demands are not being met.

As they roam the halls of the state capitol panhandling for more taxpayer cash, the universities are also fighting to stave off inclusion in the Open Records law.  Their goal is a never-ending stream of state dollars, without transparency and accountability for how those dollars are being spent.  For some reason they believe they deserve a special exception to the rules other institutions receiving state funds must follow.

If anything, the Sandusky scandal and the presidential search fiasco should serve as glaring reasons why Penn State and the other state-related universities should and must be placed under provisions of the Open Records law.  A case can even be made that the law should be strengthened across the boards.

Simply put, you cannot have too much transparency in government.  Information is power.  And the natural inclination of any bureaucracy is to preserve and expand its power.  A strong, enforceable Open Records law is vital to preventing the abuse of such power.  And the key to any new law covering the state-related universities must be enforceability.  Compliance should be tied to funding: comply and the university gets state funds, fail to comply and funding is withheld.

Given the proven inability of Penn State’s board and administration to reform itself the minimum that must occur is to let the light of full disclosure shine into the dark recesses of the institution’s back rooms.  Only then will we the people of Pennsylvania be able to regain trust and confidence in Penn State and it can be restored to its rightful place as one of our commonwealth’s most important and respected institutions.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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America’s Biggest Scandal


By Lowman S. Henry

From the administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, to the Internal Revenue Service harassment of conservative organizations, to the Justice Department’s snooping on the news media, to the NSA’s electronic monitoring of phone calls and e-mails, there has been no lack of scandals flowing from the nation’s capital this year.

But the biggest scandal of all can be found at the Veterans Administration where an average of 53 men and women who have served this nation die each day waiting for bureaucrats to process the benefits they have earned. The backlog at the VA now numbers more than 851,000 cases. Worse, the backlog is growing rather than shrinking.

And it is not just an inflow of claims from those who have served in America’s most recent wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan that has caused the backlog. Veterans who served in Vietnam and who are now showing symptoms from the defoliant Agent Orange also find their benefits clogged in the government pipeline. The current backlog was triggered by a move designed to help more veterans. The VA relaxed the rules governing who could apply for benefits for health problems arising from exposure to Agent Orange, or those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder also known as PTSD.

The problem is while anticipating a flood of new claims, the VA inexplicably failed to put into place the administrative systems and the technology needed to handle the larger caseload. As a result, the time frame for processing a claim has grown from an average of 125 days in 2009 to nearly a full year – 331 days. And the problem isn’t money. The budget for the Veteran’s Administration has grown by over 40% and Congress has offered more funding to speed up the process. The VA is one agency that has been spared budget cuts under sequestration.

The problem, pure and simple, is administrative incompetence. Captain Darin Selnick, USAF (Retired) was a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for eight years. He is now on the organizing committee of Concerned Veterans for America. The group is fighting to put pressure on the Obama Administration to deal with the crisis at the VA.

Selnick is blunt when talking about how to solve the problem recently telling American Radio Journal: “In the military if you don’t take the hill you find the right person who will take the hill.” He says there are middle and upper level managers who failed to prepare for the increase in claims, and who have been unable to deal with the meltdown that ensued. Selnick believes the problem rises all the way to the top, where retired General Eric Shinseki, who serves as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs has likewise failed to come to grips with the problems plaguing his department.

While Washington bureaucrats stumble about, the lengthy delay in processing claims has had a day-to-day impact on the lives of America’s war veterans. For some the waiting game has prevented them from getting much needed health care. Others await approval of benefits to further their educations. And some families face further emotional upheaval awaiting burial benefits. As a result of the delays, thousands of veterans are dying and others have faced added stress resulting in high unemployment rates, and surging homelessness.

As America prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the declaration of its independence on July 4, 1776 it is time to reflect on the fact that each generation has sent our sons and daughters to fight to preserve, protect and defend that most precious of commodities – freedom. Today’s veterans answered the call to protect our liberty, and now our government is failing them in their time of need.

This past spring, Concerned Veterans for America called upon President Obama to take swift action to deal with the problems at the Veterans Administration, including the dismissal of Secretary Shinseki from his post.   Months later the problems persist with no signs of progress. The present leadership at the Veterans Administration has failed to “take the hill.”   That such “leadership” remains in place – and America’s veterans are suffering and dying because of it – is the Obama Administration’s biggest scandal of all.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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Jay Costa’s Big Government Agenda


In recent weeks Americans have seen the dark underbelly of big government: the IRS targeting conservative groups; the Department of Justice tapping the phone lines of journalists; stonewalling by the White House on Benghazi. It is not the best of times to be pushing a big government agenda. But here in Pennsylvania that is exactly what state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa is doing.

Speaking before the Pennsylvania Press Club, Costa boldly proclaimed his caucus’ highest priorities over the coming months are raising taxes and expanding government programs. In essence he wants to double down on the failed policies that have gotten us into serious fiscal difficulty on a number of fronts.

Parroting national left-wing orthodoxy the Democratic leader of the state senate railed against Governor Tom Corbett for rejection of the Medicare health care exchanges being set up as part of the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. Pennsylvania would initially benefit from an infusion of federal cash, but according to the Heritage Foundation within five to six years massive state tax dollars would be required to sustain the program, quickly erasing the initial benefits. But that is part of the plan: ensnare the state in a massive new entitlement program; hook people on the benefits; run up a substantial deficit thereby creating a political climate that forces the enactment of new taxes.

Already Obamacare is showing signs of unraveling. So much so that veteran Democratic U.S. Senator Max Baucus of Montana several weeks ago termed the program a “train wreck.” And, with the current IRS scandal in full bloom, public confidence in that agency’s ability to fairly and efficiently monitor and enforce the program are, well, non-existent.

Costa also pressed hard for lifting the cap on the state’s oil franchise tax as a way of raising more revenue to fix roads and bridges. This would add over 20-cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline. There is bi-partisan agreement that the state’s aging network of roads and bridges need serious attention. But Costa also proposes diverting even more state dollars into public transportation – in particular the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Agency (SEPTA) and Port Authority Transit (PAT) in Pittsburgh. Both are legendary patronage havens sporting some of the highest labor rates in the nation.

Costa framed both the health care exchanges and spending on highway infrastructure as jobs programs. Yes, they would create jobs. But they would be jobs created by the transfer of private wealth to the government sector, not jobs created as a result of a growing economy. Some might say “jobs are jobs,” but the siphoning of money on the scale proposed by Costa from the private sector will result in further stifling a slow economic recovery. That will hinder the process of creating private sector jobs. In the end the real cost may be in net jobs lost.

At the same time as he trumpeted big government programs, Costa detailed senate Democrats’ opposition to reforms that would unleash the power of free markets to create real economic growth. Specifically, they are opposed to privatization of the state’s Soviet-era state store system. Credible polls show Pennsylvanians widely support the improved convenience and selection of wine and spirits should Penn’s Woods adopt a system currently employed by 48 other states. It would create an opportunity for thousands of small businesses, and add real jobs in the private sector.

Costa also called for a moratorium on the phase out of the Capitol Stock & Franchise Tax. This is an arcane tax, one with which most Pennsylvanians are unfamiliar.   It is levied on corporations in addition to Corporate Net Income taxes. Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with both taxes. As a result, it contributes significantly to a poor overall state business climate giving other states a built-in advantage in competition for business creation and expansion.

Taken as a whole, the senate Democrat agenda is geared more to winning next year’s elections than in seriously addressing the problems and needs of Pennsylvanians. Costa employed populist rhetoric against Governor Corbett saying he is putting the needs of corporations over health care for people. But the opposite is true. The governor opposes putting state taxpayers on the hook for funding an already failing federal health care monstrosity, and pushes elimination of the Capitol Stock & Franchise tax as a way to spur real, private sector job creation.

So far polls indicate the Democrats’ political gambit is working. But that is little solace to Pennsylvanians who, if the Costa agenda is enacted, won’t be able to find work, will be saddled with a massive new state health care bureaucracy, will be paying more at the pump, along with higher taxes and smaller paychecks to fund a massive expansion of state government.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

 

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IRS’ Next Target: Health Insurance


By Jennifer Stefano

The mainstream media is rightly shocked and outraged to find the IRS has admitted to harassing and targeting the political opposition of President Obama just because they had “tea party” or “patriot” in their name, or an even graver sin, put on the IRS applications that they were a group dedicated to liberty, the Constitution or, as one report said, “seeking to make America a better place to live.”

I truly appreciate the mainstream media’s coverage and outrage – it is well placed but not quite well timed. Those of us who got our start in the Tea Party have only been saying it for about 4 years.

I’ve been out in the mainstream media quite a bit this past week talking about how I shut down my little Tea Party group because I was fearful the IRS was going to come after me the way they were going after so many groups.

That’s right, for a time, I shut down my political voice because I was fearful and quite frankly, I was intimidated by what the IRS would do to me because I was opposing President Obama’s policies.

As much as I like to think I am one tough cookie – the fact is when all this was unfolding I was a pregnant stay at home mom – living on one income and I was extremely worried the IRS could come after me and my family and ruin our lives.   It wouldn’t be the first time in American history the IRS has done that.

Rather than risk that exposure – I shut down my group and I’m just glad bigger organizations dedicated to liberty – like Americans for Prosperity – were there when I wanted to have a platform to exercise my political voice.

But you know – it’s not THIS IRS abuse that keeps me up at night with worry. It’s something else to do with the IRS – far more dangerous and far more insidious and in just one more year, the IRS is going to have more power and more ability to gather personal information on Americans and use it to punitively punish us more than they ever had had before.

Even without this recent scandal, it’s pretty safe to say most Americans fear the IRS because they are unelected and unaccountable – yet the have the ability, at any time, to swoop in and take our hard-earned money – in the form of taxes – as they see fit. If we pay late, they fine us. If we fail to pay, it gets much worse than a fine. If we pay too little, we owe them big time on April 15th. If we pay too much during the year, they return our money to us in the form of a refund and act like they are bestowing a gift upon us rather than admitting they screwed up and took too much of our money. Our money. Our families. It’s all very personal.

And while we sit here and shudder at what has happened, it’s important to know that the IRS – the organization that just spent four years targeting the political opposition of the sitting President has been empowered by the President, through the healthcare law, to police every, single American’s healthcare choices.

Do you want to know how bad this is going to get?   Starting in 2014, all Americans are being forced to pay for health insurance. But under Obamacare – the IRS and not you will determine whether the insurance you have chosen “qualifies.” You’ll be forced now to send that information via your tax return. And if the government doesn’t like it? The IRS can hit you with a tax penalty.

That’s right, the IRS can raise money for itself simply by deciding that you don’t have “qualifying” health insurance.   Now, supporters of Obamacare will argue that there are rules and laws to mandate the IRS don’t arbitrarily do that. Right….just like there are rules and laws mandating that the IRS can’t go after people because they have “patriot” or “tea party” in their name or happen to oppose the sitting President’s policies. Didn’t seem to stop the IRS from doing just that for the last four years, did it?
And here’s what’s worse: under Obamacare, the IRS was already given a billion dollars and hired 700 agents just to police our healthcare.   It is estimated the IRS will need another 13 billion dollars and 15,000 new agents just to police Americans’ healthcare over the next decade and keep up with their tax collection duties.

There are so many reasons to repeal the President’s healthcare law – but the recent admission by the IRS that they intentionally targeted the President’s political opposition has to jump to number one. After all, do you want the people who can’t be trusted with our tax laws to be involved in your health care?

I’m Jennifer Stefano. You can find out more at Americans for Prosperity.org/Pennsylvania or

follow me on Twitter at @stefanospeaks!

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