AG’s office opens probe of Schneller’s petitions
Of the three candidates in the 7th Congressional District, two now find their nominating petitions under law enforcement scrutiny.
The state attorney general’s office has opened an investigation into independent Jim Schneller’s nominating papers. The investigation was spurred by a letter from an attorney representing supporters of Republican Pat Meehan.
Meehan’s nominating petitions are already being probed by the office for alleged fraud. His supporters recently failed in an attempt to knock Schneller off the ballot, after allies of Democratic nominee Bryan Lentz helped the conservative insurgent gather signatures. But the legal maneuvering hasn’t ended there. In examining nominating papers that were circulated for Schneller by Lentz supporters, Meehan’s camp came to believe that some might contain forged signatures. A handwriting expert was retained, and James Colins, the Cozen O’Connor attorney who has represented Meehan’s supporters for months, sent a letter and the expert’s preliminary report to Delaware County District Attorney Michael Green. That referral was passed on to the state attorney general’s office, which began an investigation, a spokesman confirmed. The spokesman declined to comment further.
The probe of Schneller’s petitions was opened before he filed suit against Attorney General Tom Corbett, seeking to compel Corbett’s office to complete its investigation of Meehan’s nominating petitions. The latest disclosure continues a heated campaign that has been dominated by bitter arguments about the propriety of how candidates gain ballot access. For all he has done to stoke those debates, Lentz now finds himself as the only candidate whose campaign is not under investigation.
In an interview late Tuesday, Schneller said he knew nothing of forged signatures. “I would have stopped them instantly,” he insisted.
At issue are signatures gathered by Richard Cairns, a Swarthmore Democrat and self-employed construction contractor. Cairns was one of several Lentz supporters who circulated papers for Schneller, in the hopes that Schneller’s presence on the ballot would pull votes from Meehan in the state’s most competitive House race. Cairns also gathered signatures for Lentz’s primary campaign, and served as a plaintiff in ballot challenges that eventually resulted in a clear primary field for Lentz.
Cairns collected only 114 signatures for Schneller, according to files on record with the Department of State, hardly enough to make a difference in the bottom line of whether Schneller had a sufficient number to be on the ballot. But in examining signatures he gathered, Colins wrote in his letter, Meehan’s camp came to believe they contained “what would appear to be numerous forgeries.”
“I have no knowledge as to who may have been the person responsible for these irregularities,” Colins wrote. “However, our examiner’s analysis indicates that [some signatures] do not match the signatures contained in the official registration records of Delaware County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
That by itself is not evidence of forgery, and it remains to be seen what if anything the investigation will uncover. Reached Tuesday evening by pa2010.com, Cairns said: “So far as I am aware, there are no forged signatures on the petitions I circulated.”
In a brief examination of the signatures spotlighted by Meehan’s camp, pa2010.com identified some voters who said they definitely did sign the nominating papers, and some voters who said they definitely do not. Some others weren’t sure, and many could not be immediately reached Tuesday night.
September 8, 2010 at 10:53 am