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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

PA-Sen: Santorum's Ethics Mire

Posted by DavidNYC

We all knew how much of a joke it was when Bill Frist tapped Dick Santorum to be the GOP's "ethics point man." It almost seemed like a perverse set-up job at the time - Li'l Ricky was sure to crash and burn on the ethics front. And indeed, that fate has come to pass:

SEN. RICK SANTORUM and his wife received a $500,000, five-year mortgage for their Leesburg, Va., home from a small, private Philadelphia bank run by a major campaign donor - even though its stated policy is to make loans only to its "affluent" investors, which the senator is not.

Good-government experts said the mortgage from The Philadelphia Trust Co. raises serious questions about Santorum's conduct at a time when he is the Senate GOP's point man on ethics reform. They said it would be a violation of the Senate's ethics rules if Santorum received something a regular citizen could not get.

A campaign spokeswoman for Santorum, who is seeking re-election, said the couple's mortgage interest rate was "market-driven," but she refused to offer specifics, as did officials from Philadelphia Trust.

Reminds me of a great episode of Law & Order where a wealthy family bribes a judge by pressuring their bank to offer him a low-interest loan available only to the uber-rich. But wait, there's more:

• A political-action committee chaired by Santorum, America's Foundation, spends less money on direct aid to GOP candidates - its stated purpose - and more on expenditures than similar PACs. And its expenditure reports are littered with scores of unorthodox expenses for a political committee, with charges at coffee and ice cream shops and fast-food joints as well as supermarkets and a home-hardware store.

For example, America's Foundation made 66 charges at Starbucks Coffee, almost all in the senator's hometown of Leesburg, Va., and 94 charges at another D.C.-area vendor, HMSHost Corp. Virginia Davis, the campaign spokeswoman, defended all the charges as campaign-related, saying the senator prefers to meet political aides in coffee shops rather than on Senate property.

• A little-publicized charity founded by Santorum in 2001, the Operation Good Neighbor Foundation, is not registered in Pennsylvania, even though the majority of its fundraising and spending takes place here.

What's more, three years of public tax returns show the charity spent just 35.9 percent of the nearly $1 million it raised during that time on charity grants, well below the 75 percent threshold recommended by experts. The group's Web site says it has distributed a total of $474,000 to groups, many faith-based, that fight social ills and urban poverty.

The part about the charity really steams me. So many charities in this country are near-scams, spending most of what they raise on expenses, rather than directing their contributions to the people and groups who really need the money. I'm hardly surprised that someone like Santorum is engaged in that kind of activity, but it still infuriates me.

Fact is, though, wittingly or not, Bill Frist shone a bright spotlight on Santorum's own ethical record, and it's an ugly, ugly sight. I seriously hope DC Democrats can make some hay out of this one, because this particular story is not just about one senator's misdeeds. The storyline here is that the Republican tasked with cleaning up ethics practices himself is an unethical scoundrel. That's definitely man-bites-dog - or should I say, man-on-dog?

Posted at 03:39 PM in 2006 Elections - Senate, Pennsylvania | Technorati

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I remember that "Law & Order" episode vividly. In fact, I have an ongoing game in my head where I try to match L&O judges with Senators. It all started because one of their recurring actors looks just like Jim Jeffords, and another one kinda resembles Jon Corzine.

Re: Santorum, I never thought he could get any more hypocritical, but there you have it.

Posted by: AnthonySF [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 22, 2006 10:35 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment