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Fast Eddie misled the public

| Sunday, Nov. 17, 2002

PHILADELPHIA - “Eddie … Ed-ee … Ed-eee … Ed-EEEEEE!”

The crescendo was building at Ed Rendell's victory celebration on Nov. 5. Hundreds of Rendell loyalists were cheering wildly. Rendell would soon stride to the microphone, claiming his gubernatorial victory.

They cared not about the sleight of hand at the end of the campaign designed to dampen coverage of his long-delayed 2001 federal income tax statement. The disclosure came only five days before the election and he got away with it.

Rendell and his wife Midge, a federal judge, made more than $900,000 in gross income. He received a $279,000 stock windfall as a board member of an electronic firm and $252,000 from a Philadelphia law firm for which he had done little work.

The election is over. Rendell won by 9 points. Who cares• Would it have made any difference• Rendell was not required to disclose the information. But his GOP opponent, Mike Fisher, did release his income tax statement.

Rendell did nothing wrong. He made a bundle of money. Terrific.

But if the tax return had been released earlier in the year, or even on Oct. 15 when it was filed, it would have given the Fisher campaign some credible fodder. The Oct. 15 filing had been Rendell's deadline for his second extension. He didn't release the documents until Oct. 31. His income statement was potentially a political time bomb.

Here's why the documents were dangerous:

  • Rendell's primary opponent, Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr., who later ardently supported him, had blasted Rendell last spring for collecting the big fee from his law firm, Ballard Spahr, for basically doing nothing.

  • Rendell's largest contributor, Stephen Frobouck of Pittsburgh, former president of ComNet, had chosen Rendell for ComNet's board. Other big name politicos, including Republicans, were on the board. As a board member, Rendell received $25,000. When ComNet was sold to a subsidiary of embattled Tyco International last year, Rendell's stock options brought $279,000. Frobouck had given $665,000 to Rendell's campaign — $500,000 of it a “loan.”

  • Corporate scandals have fueled a frenzy about corporate greed. It's not the best time to release this when you have championed the cause of working folks for better health care and lower property taxes.

    OK, who's to say Rendell, busy on the campaign trail, didn't need extensions until Oct. 15• But with a law firm and accountants at your disposal it's hard to see why.

    In early October, I asked for copies of Rendell's tax statements and was told they would be made available after he filed Oct. 15. Silly me. I thought they would actually be provided the same day.

    I called on the 14th of October and was told by his campaign spokesman that they would be released “sooner rather than later” after the filing.

    I called again on the 15th and they said they wanted to get all the copies and hand them out at one time to the media, probably by the end of the week.

    During a debate in Pittsburgh on Oct. 18, Rendell had stated the delay was due to a complicated land deal.

    Right.

    The following week I was told – get this – that the delay after the filing was due to reporters supposedly wanting 25 years' worth of his returns and all the copying that required. I said I only wanted one year. Fisher offered Rendell a Kinko's gift certificate.

    In sum, Rendell and his campaign misled the press and the public. That's worth keeping in mind.

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