HARRISBURG - A former Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate yesterday asked the state's highest court to reopen his two-year-old ballot-access case because state legislative officials arrested last week on corruption charges were allegedly involved in the challenge that knocked him out of the race.
Carl Romanelli, once regarded as a threat to Democrat Bob Casey in the 2006 Senate race, and his lawyer, Lawrence Otter, want the case sent back to Commonwealth Court. There, they plan to ask a judge to dismiss a ruling requiring them to pay more than $80,000 in legal costs.
Romanelli and Otter cite grand jury allegations that state House Democratic caucus operatives directed as many as 30 taxpayer-paid employees to review signatures on Romanelli's petition in the ballot challenge that killed his candidacy.
"A democratic society can no longer function if the government is going to support candidates and suppress other candidates using its funds and resources," Samuel Stretton, the attorney for Romanelli and Otter, wrote in yesterday's filing in the state Supreme Court.
Casey won the election over Rick Santorum, then the third-ranking Republican in the Senate.
A Casey spokesman said the senator was not aware of any illegal activity surrounding the Romanelli ballot challenge.
"There was never any indication . . . about anything like this going on," said the spokesman, Larry Smar.
In a similar challenge that prevented Ralph Nader from running in Pennsylvania as an independent presidential candidate in 2004, the grand jury alleged that as many as 50 House Democratic staffers invested "a staggering number of man-hours" in efforts to block his candidacy.
The state Supreme Court ordered Nader and running-mate Peter Miguel Camejo to pay $81,000 in legal costs of the voters who challenged his signatures - a judgment that Nader is contesting in District of Columbia courts.
Nader's lawyer, Oliver Hall, said he was deciding whether to raise the Pennsylvania corruption case in that litigation.
"We are going to aggressively pursue every avenue to oppose this judgment," Hall said. "It now appears to be clear that [the judgment] is the result of a criminal conspiracy."
State Attorney General Tom Corbett's office last week charged each of the 12 defendants with theft, conspiracy and conflicts-of-interest counts in an alleged wide-ranging scheme to use taxpayer-funded employees, equipment and other resources to advance their political interests.
The defendants include former Rep. Michael Veon of Beaver County, the number-two Democratic leader until he was ousted in the 2006 election; Mike Manzo, the former chief of staff to House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese, who has not been charged; and one sitting legislator, Rep. Sean Ramaley (D., Beaver).
The ballot challenges left Nader and Romanelli, a railroad consultant who had been making his first bid for statewide political office, thousands of signatures shy of the number needed to qualify for their respective ballots.