HARRISBURG - The tentacles of the Bonusgate scandal have spread to past presidential politics.
Buried deep in the grand jury report, released last week, that led to the indictment of 12 people are details of what is described as a "massive" effort by House Democrats to oust the independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader from the ballot in 2004.
Also, the report says, in 2006 the same machine fired up again to boot from the ballot Carl Romanelli, the Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate in a race won by Democrat Bob Casey.
In light of the grand jury revelations of political work conducted with taxpayers' money, the candidates and reform advocates want a federal investigation into the ballot challenges, which they now think were the result of the criminal conspiracy that has come to be known as Bonusgate.
Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp filed a petition with the U.S. attorney here yesterday, asking him to look into whether any of those charged in the state investigation were also involved in federal elections while they were supposed to be working on state business as legislators and legislative aides.
"Everybody who runs for office should have a fair election that isn't subverted by alleged criminal activity," said Stilp.
House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene), who led the effort to oppose Nader, said yesterday through a spokesman that "those matters are for the U.S. attorney and courts to decide."
Martin Carlson, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, acknowledged that he had received Stilp's correspondence, but said it was the policy of his office "to decline to make any comment whatsoever regarding whether any matters are the subject of pending investigation."
The grand jury report, released by Attorney General Tom Corbett last week, alleges that former House Minority Whip Michael Veon of Beaver County ran a statewide political operation out of his Capitol and district offices involving hundreds of legislative workers on the House Democrats' payroll.
One of the House Democrats' most visible targets was Nader, who in 2004 was seeking to challenge Democrat John Kerry as well as President Bush. As many as 50 Pennsylvania House staff members worked on a challenge to Nader's ballot petition, and more than half received state-funded bonuses, in part for their "Nader efforts," according to the report.
A decision by Commonwealth Court, upheld by the state Supreme Court, found that most of the signatures for Nader were invalid.
Nader is locked in a battle with lawyers representing a group of Democratic voters over an order that he pay $81,000 in legal fees. Two of his personal bank accounts were frozen last year as a result.
Now, Nader says the charges against the House Democrats are cause to throw out that judgment against him.
"It looks like the judgment was the result of a criminal conspiracy," said Nader's attorney, Oliver Hall. "We will investigate our options to vacate the judgment."
Romanelli, who was thrown off the 2006 ballot for having improper signatures, said he would seek a new hearing on his case in Commonwealth Court. "This is absolutely hideous," said Romanelli. "I knew I was a victim of conspiracy on behalf of the Democratic Party."
Abe Amoros, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said the grand jury report did not "exclude the fact that Ralph Nader and Carl Romanelli falsified their nominating petitions."
"I fail to see how this is the responsibility of the Democratic Party," he said. "They are rehashing their own inadequacies and their own incompetence to get on the ballot."
Both candidates maintain that the majority of their signatures were valid.