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Ballot challenge, spearheaded by Lentz, alleges widespread fraud in Meehan’s petitions

The nominating petitions that Republican Pat Meehan’s congressional campaign submitted to get on the May primary ballot are so rife with invalid signatures and outright fraud as to warrant keeping the former U.S. Attorney off the ballot, according to a complaint filed in Commonwealth Court.

The 15-page complaint, filed by Republican supporters of Meehan’s likely Democratic opponent Bryan Lentz, details a litany of problems with the more than 3,600 signatures collected by Meehan’s campaign, as well as with the petitions on which they were gathered. If even a fraction of the allegations prove to be true, it will cast significant doubt on Meehan’s comments last week implying that the problems were limited to signatures gathered by one just one person. Lentz’s campaign also spurred ballot challenges against both of his underdog primary opponents, E. Teresa Touey and Gail Conner, in a move that could leave him unopposed in May but could also run the risk of alienating some Democratic women (a Women for Lentz fundraiser is scheduled for Thursday evening).

It was unclear Wednesday night when court hearings for any of the challenges would take place.

The complaint, which is being handled by prominent election lawyer Clifford Levine, alleges that an examination of Meehan’s nominating petitions reveals “a wide-ranging and extensive pattern of false and forged entries, entries obtained through deception of Signers, and whole pages of outright forged signatures.” The complaint is the culmination of a several-days long effort by Lentz campaign staffers, during which they pored through Meehan’s nominating petitions and contacted people whose signatures they now believe were forged. Though Lentz cannot personally be the one challenging Meehan’s ballot position—the law requires the challenge come from a registered Republican—his campaign has made no effort to hide its fingerprints on on the complaint.

“This challenge will demonstrate that the instances of forgery and fraud in Meehan’s petitions extend far beyond what Meehan and his organization were willing to admit in their confession to the district attorney last week,” Lentz campaign manager Vincent Rongione said.

More than 2,600 signatures have to be ruled void for Meehan to be knocked off the ballot. And while the complaint involves enough signatures that it alleges to be invalid, it references evidence which will only emerge in the discovery process if the case moves forward—making it impossible to fully and independently assess the allegations at this early stage.

Meehan’s campaign did not comment directly on the complaint or its substance Wednesday, except to share with reporters a letter that he sent to Lentz about the matter. In the letter, Meehan lamented that Lentz is picking “petty fights” and playing “gotcha politics.” He dismissed the scope of the complaint’s claims, and challenged Lentz to “do better.”

“In truth, this whole part of the exercise is a charade,” Meehan wrote. “Stop hiding behind your political handlers and loyalists and stand up and make your support for this petty challenge public.”

Meehan also said this his campaign had reviewed Lent’s nominating petitions and found 550 signatures that could be challenged (Lentz’s campaign collected more than 5,000).

“But I chose not to engage in the waste of court resources that your campaign has willingly embraced,” Meehan wrote. “I believe voters deserve better.”

The complaint is nothing if not wide in scope, claiming to have evidence enough to strike 2,284 signatures simply on their individual merits. The signatures in question, according to the complaint, include ones that, among other things, were illegible; incomplete; belonging to voters not registered in the district; belong to voters not registered as Republicans; or forged entirely by someone else. It further alleges that many of the petitions on which signatures were gathered were circulated by people other than those who signed affidavits confirming they had  witnessed each signature.

All together, it appears to be the most serious ballot challenge to a major candidate this cycle. And unless it completely flops in court, even a loss would seem to have significant political upside for Lentz. Despite its competitiveness, many Democratic leaders and fundraisers are bearish on the race, seeing Meehan and the powerful Republican Party in Delaware County as exceedingly tough to beat in a year trending against the Democrats. A substantive ballot challenge could dent that perception, and energize some in the party to take at least one foot off the sidelines.

It also underscores that the Lentz campaign believes it has one of its strongest arguments against Meehan in seeking to paint him as part of the county GOP machine, a local party with a sway over local politics rivaled by few others in Pennsylvania. It’s an argument that will be especially hard to make against someone like Meehan—a man who can claim credit for putting former state Senator Vince Fumo behind bars, and who oversaw a City Hall probe that ended with guilty pleas or convictions for everyone charged.

And the complaint could also serve to put the county GOP itself “on trial,” in a manner of speaking. Some of the people the complaint targets for allegations of fraudulent signature collection include party bosses Tom Judge and John McNichol.

The complaint began to emerge about a week ago, when operatives for Lentz learned that a supporter’s wife allegedly had her signature forged on a nominating petition. They began to dig deeper, and soon, Meehan alerted the press that it had asked county District Attorney Mike Green to investigate the matter ( has yet to determine whether or not it was the Lentz campaign’s actions that directly led to Meehan learning of the problems). In his letter to Green, Meehan acknowledged that petitions circulated by one person contain signatures “that we believe are questionable.” The disclosure got Meehan’s campaign ahead of the story for a few news cycles. But Lentz staffers and volunteers worked through the weekend to review Meehan’s nominating petitions, and by the beginning of this week they were looking for a lawyer to file the complaint by the day-end deadline on Tuesday.

Levine, the lawyer handling the ballot challenge, has worked for Senator Bob Casey, and led successful the ballot challenge against a third-party candidate in the 2006 Senate race. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

•Also on Meehan asks D.A. to investigate his ballot petitions
D.A. investigating Meehan’s petitions also a contributor

March 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm

--Dan Hirschhorn

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comments [21] | post a comment

  1. huw

    Mar 17th, 2010

    Obvious to challenge Meehan but why challenge Touey and Connor? They are not going to win, why the strong arm tactics. Foolish move.

  2. David Diano

    Mar 17th, 2010

    Lentz campaign shouldn’t bother going after Conner and Touey.

    Besides alienating Dems Lentz will need in the Fall, it looks great if the Dems can field THREE candidates and the GOP can’t even field ONE candidate!!

  3. huw

    Mar 17th, 2010

    I thought about that some more. I guess that if you make an issue of Meehan’s petitions you’re going to have to do the same to Touey and Connor. Hard ball politics all the way around. Looks like this race is starting early and not much time for the side candidates. I guess Schnelling gets to stay in the race til the early Fall though.

  4. phensley

    Mar 18th, 2010

    This looks like a fatal blow to the Meehan campaign. Anybody can tell that these are extremely serious allegations and calling it a “petty” challenge or “gotcha” politics is nonsense.

    Even if Meehan somehow hangs on in court due to technicalities, I don’t see how he can recover from the revelation that his candidacy relies on such fraudulent practices. Meehan is no better than the guys he prosecuted, he just plays for a different team.

  5. HaverfordDemocrat

    Mar 18th, 2010

    Hey Diano, you are a bum. A giant hypocritical loser. You ripped Sestak for his challenges and then you say, all but nothing about Lentz. I happen to think all the challenges are legit, and should be investigated. You (Diano) only want to take shots at Sestak. You are a pathetic loser. How is it living life with, well, no life and being toxic in any Democratic campaign (at least legit campaign, with a shot at winning or any fundraising)?

  6. David Diano

    Mar 18th, 2010

    I don’t think it’s the same thing. Meehan is the new Delco GOP standard bearer. Going after him is key to revealing the whole corrupt GOP structure. I wonder how many GOP St. Leg races have bad petitions too?

    The thing that can be devastating to the Delco GOP is that the circulators risk perjury and other potential criminal charges.

    Haverford Dem-
    Are you illiterate or drunk?

    I ALREADY said it would be p*ssy move by Lentz to challenge Conner and Touey’s petitions UNLESS there was some really massive, deliberate fraud going on.

    My comment is right here in the thread where I go after Sestak. And where YOU later complained that I was hard on Lentz, but not on Dan Onorato:

    Put down the wine glass, cork the bottle, and sober up, you pathetic, anonymous coward.

  7. Colleen Guiney

    Mar 18th, 2010

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I beg to differ.
    You state that petitions should only be challenged if there is massive, deliberate fraud.
    I believe there is also a valid argument to be made regarding accountability. Congressmen and women profoundly influence the lives of every US citizen. If a candidate unwittingly submits invalid petitions, should they not be held accountable?
    Moreover, I don’t know if Conner’s supporters will ever be won over by Lentz. When asked directly at the Cheyney forum, two of three Dem candidates stated that they would support the Dem winner of the May primary. Conner did not.

  8. Bruce Bailey

    Mar 18th, 2010

    Hey Colleen, good to see you here. I agree that the petition process is a hurdle to be cleared, whether you are a committee person or a Congressional candidate. And if you screw it up, you should be fair game.

    Disappointing to hear what you say about Conner. She seemed like a nice person (though a bit overwhelmed) at the Montco endorsement meeting.

    I know you’re busy with the Lentz race, but hope you’ll find time to stop by to bat down some of the looney stuff that Dave and Rick Saunders (+sock puppets) are trying to sell here about Sestak.

  9. [...] Gotta love this! Republican Pat Meehan is running for Joe Sestak’s 7th District seat in the Philly suburbs. Meehan, a former U.S. attorney, is of course running on his law-and-order record (don’t look too closely, now!). Of course, since so many of our state judges are bought and paid for, I wouldn’t expect them to rock this particular boat: The nominating petitions that Republican Pat Meehan’s congressional campaign submitted to get on the May primary ballot are so rife with invalid signatures and outright fraud as to warrant keeping the former U.S. Attorney off the ballot, according to a complaint filed in Commonwealth Court. [...]

  10. David Diano

    Mar 18th, 2010

    I don’t mean to say that massive fraud is the only reason ever to challenge petitions. However, in this case, Lentz is so far ahead in fundraising, etc. that it’s pointless to challenge them. It just makes him look like a bully and it’s going to breed resentment from their supporters if they get knocked off the ballot. There is NO upside to it.

    Conner and Touey are liberal. Their supporters aren’t going to vote for Meehan. But, if they feel disenfranchised in the Primary, they may stay home in November, despite Conner and Touey publicly supporting Lentz. It’s a just a bad move in an otherwise flawless and expansive campaign my Lentz.

    What did I say bad about Conner? I actually signed her petition and I think she deserves to be on the ballot. However, Lentz got the county endorsements. He’s going to be on the sample ballots. This is unnecessary.

    If Conner or Touey were engaged in a massive fraud or if they were Republican operatives, I can understand going after them.
    If the Lentz campaign has the resources to waste on Conner and Touey petitions, it’s my opinion that they use those resources to challenge all the GOP St. Leg candidates in PA-7 instead.

  11. Bruce Bailey

    Mar 18th, 2010

    Dave – You didn’t say anything about Conner that I know of. That was directed to Colleen, who said that Conner was refusing to endorse the Dem primary winner if it wasn’t her.

  12. Lana

    Mar 18th, 2010

    Bravo for Lentz, he did the right thing.
    I have done petitions for 35 years and I know how hard they can be. I would bet my house on the fact that most of the people sounding off have never ciculated a petition nor do they know the rules. Shame on Meehan, he is a disgrace and thought he could get away with breaking the rules and I do hope he pays dearly.

    There are many challenegs going on from Committee to the top of the ballot by each party.Therefore I don’t see a problem with Conner and Touey, one being a carpet bagger for Sestak from MA. Lentz should have had the seat four years ago instead of Sestak the little adniral.

    Until the law is changed all must live with the rules of the Commonwealth

    Meehan maybe could have challened but for what? Lentz had more than he needed and 550 out of 5,000 would not do a thing and Lentz would still be on the ballot. Appears he screwed up badly and if the signatures are proven to be false he must be thrown off the ballot according to the law. If you don’t like it, then you have to change the law.

  13. David Diano

    Mar 18th, 2010

    Lentz can challenge Conner and Touey, but I think it’s a bad strategic move that will cost him more good will than any benefit he will get.

    Challenging Meehan and exposing the corrupt Delco GOP DOES make sense, because that’s exactly what the Dems have been fighting against and it fits with Lentz’s overall campaign.

  14. Colleen Guiney

    Mar 18th, 2010

    Hi, Bruce-
    Thank you for your measured comments. I will try to weigh in when I can.


    Lentz is not a bully.

    He does understand the gravity of this election, and from where I sit, it would be hypocritical for him to pick and choose which invalid petitions to challenge.

    As Bruce has pointed out, all candidates must clear the petition hurdle. Petition signatures gathered by volunteers are a concrete demonstration of support for the candidate. If a candidate does not have enough valid signatures, this calls into question either integrity (Republicans cited above) or strength of the candidate’s support in his or her base.

    The ‘upside’ of challenging candidates who can’t demonstrate adequate strength to clear petitions before the primary is that resources can then be focused on the November contest.

    You may not agree with Lentz’s strategy, but I don’t believe that you can accurately speak for Conner and Touey supporters.

    Perhaps they will infer from this challenge that their efforts to win the primary were not feasible this cycle. Perhaps not. Only time will tell.

  15. BB

    Mar 18th, 2010

    Neither candidate deserves election to this office. They are both doing a disservice to taxpayers. Zero leadership, all bureaucrats.

  16. Woman Voter

    Mar 18th, 2010

    Lentz knows that Touey and Conner will steer the discussion to the left when he wants to move to the right so that he can be just slightly to the left of Meehan. Why else try to eliminate them? Why else?
    And this is called Democracy…

  17. [...] U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan on Thursday sought the dismissal of a petition seeking to remove him from the GOP primary ballot for Congress—but his motion was almost immediately made moot by an order from the state court hearing the [...]

  18. David Diano

    Mar 18th, 2010

    I didn’t say he was a bully. I said he’s going to look like a bully.

    Second of all, “technically” Meehan’s petitions can’t be challenged by Lentz, but only by Republicans.

    I’m not speaking for Conner or Touey supporters, but I think it’s an unnecessary risk by Lentz that he could alienate them.

    There’s a general “fairness” rule we learn as kids: “Pick on someone your own size.” Meehan is fair game on several levels.

    However, Conner and Touey simply don’t require a hardball approach. Their supporters will learn how feasible their efforts have been on May 18th.
    I like Lentz a lot. But I am very disappointed by this particular move against two fellow Dems that aren’t anywhere near his political weight class.

    Woman Voter-
    Actually having Conner and Touey on his left is good for Bryan. It won’t look like he’s moving as much to the center for the general election.

  19. Sean Haugh

    Mar 19th, 2010

    As a professional in the business and someone who is completely neutral here, I can tell you these charges are boilerplate garbage that cannot be taken seriously on their face. The entire challenge system is an affront to freedom, designed to let the politically powerful and the rich use their resources to take away your choices on the ballot. Every citizen who meets the requirements has a Constitutional right to run for office, whether they are a sitting Congressman or an underfunded challenger. Anyone who tries to rob citizens of their rights in this way and rob voters of their choices is spitting on the principles that make America a free country. The challenge process takes away the choices of the voters and hands them to the bureaucrats.

  20. md

    Mar 21st, 2010

    I posted this on another story on this topic but it bears repeating here:

    If you don’t like the rules don’t play the game. I find it hypocritical for candidates and others to say we should allow EVERYONE to have a “voice” and run for elected office. You have a voice, it’s called voting. In order to be a canidate, you need voters to support you. The rules state that you must get a certain number of valid signatures to demonstrate that (1) you have support from actual voters in your district and (2) you can follow rules/laws. Don’t we have enough corrupt politicians who come to believe they are above the law, after gaining our trust and support, then betraying it. If you start off the process by breaking the law, how are the citizens supposed to fathom that you will abide by laws and ethics once a candidate secures the power of elected office. Get real and get valid signatures!

  21. Dave Castor

    Mar 22nd, 2010

    Pennsylvania voters are idiots. They continue to allow the powerful to control their lives, to the point where they aren’t even allowed to run for let alone win a public office. Maybe Alabama is the whole state, not just in the middle. What idiots. And then people are going to vote for Lentz. More idiots.

    The two women should support Meehan in the fall. AT least he didn’t challenge them. He seems more honorable now.

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