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Onorato allies aid Tea Party candidacy

| Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010

Members of unions that endorsed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, as well as one of his campaign workers, helped get Tea Party candidate John Krupa onto Pennsylvania's gubernatorial ballot for November's election, state records show.

Krupa, 59, of Clinton County filed petitions Aug. 2 with more than 24,000 signatures to get his name on the ballot. Among those who gathered signatures are officers of building trades unions, whose statewide organization unanimously endorsed Onorato on June 9 — including several officers from a Pittsburgh union hall where Onorato announced his candidacy and celebrated his primary victory.

Another Krupa petition circulator, Heather Damron of Lehigh County, was paid $1,000 by Onorato's campaign for his petition drive four months earlier.

Other Tea Party members, including Diana Reimer of Philadelphia, filed a challenge to Krupa's petitions Monday in an effort to knock him off the ballot.

A candidate with the conservative Tea Party could siphon votes from Onorato's Republican rival, Attorney General Tom Corbett of Shaler. Campaign workers for two Democratic U.S. House candidates in Eastern Pennsylvania, both of whom face difficult Republican challenges, reportedly circulated petitions for conservative third-party candidates.

"It may not be a conspiracy, but it is a pattern," said G. Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

Krupa, who is a member of the Constitution Party, said several petition circulators contacted him, saying they represented local tea parties and offering help. Krupa said his father owned a distribution company serving residential and light-industrial construction companies, which might be why building trades union officials decided to support him.

"I grew up in the construction industry," Krupa said. "All citizens in Pennsylvania, be they union members or nonunion members, need a government that represents them."

Both Onorato and Corbett have campaigned as conservatives, Krupa said, predicting he'd draw votes from both.

Several union officials the Tribune-Review contacted refused to say why they circulated Krupa's petitions or whether they support him. One official hung up when Krupa's name was mentioned and did not return a subsequent phone call. Others, including Damron, did not return phone calls.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley noted unions lobbied for the Employee Free Choice Act and the health care law, two things tea party members protested against.

"Real reform requires real honesty," Harley said. "You have what appears to be people who don't support Krupa's political philosophy, but instead are Democratic operatives working to support Dan Onorato."

"The Onorato campaign has thousands of volunteers, hundreds of whom helped him gather signatures to get on the ballot for the Democratic Primary," Onorato spokesman Brian Herman said. "So, it should be no surprise to see petition gatherers or signers in common with other candidates."

A prevailing wage investigator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5, in whose union hall Onorato announced his candidacy and celebrated his May primary win, said he circulated Krupa's petition and wasn't asked to do so by Onorato's campaign.

"I'm a political activist," said Gregory Vogt, the IBEW investigator. Asked if he was an activist for Krupa, he said, "I'm not saying that. ... I do a lot of things in my spare time."

The union officials gathered signatures in seven counties, and Damron gathered them in one, helping Krupa overcome one of the biggest obstacles in third-party candidates' way. In addition to the nearly 20,000 signatures they're required to collect — about 10 times as many as major-party candidates — they must gather at least 100 from 10 counties. It requires a statewide organization few third-party challengers have.

"When there's sort of this clandestine effort of one party trying to undermine the other party, I think it becomes worrisome," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. The group supports making ballot requirements the same for minor-party and major-party candidates. "Our campaigns really ought to be about who is the most talented person and who brings the best ideas to the table."

Frank Sirianni, president of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council, said there was no organized effort to get Krupa on the ballot. The officers who circulated Krupa's petitions work for the IBEW, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and Sheet Metal Workers, each part of the construction trades council.

"They're all independent members," Sirianni said. "Each person in a union has their own political views."

The state Democratic Party did not return phone calls.

"It's low-ball politics," Madonna said. "This does show the degree to which Democrats are deeply concerned about how badly off they are in this election cycle."

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