Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pennsylvania's Own Caucus Scandal Spawns Twitter Anonymity Concerns

The State of Pennsylvania has recently concluded its own version of the caucus scandal that rocked Wisconsin politics several years ago (and hit the news again recently with the ruling that Scooter Jensen can move his retrial to Waukesha County, where the DA seems to have no enthusiasm for taking it up).

Shortly after the Democrats took control of Pennsylvania's state house (in November of 2006), Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett began investigating the practice of taxpayer-compensated legislative aides working on political campaigns.  However, it was mainly Democrats who were prosecuted.  Three (one Rep. and two staffers) were convicted in March.  The first sentence, against legislative aide Brett Cott, was just handed down this week (21 to 60 months in prison).

If Cott's name sounds familiar to Wisconsin political junkies, it may be because he is the former executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party who then went on to work for Chuck Chvala during the time of Wisconsin's caucus scandal.

In September of 2008, an anonymous blog called CasablancaPA began posting criticisms of Corbett's investigation and prosecutory choices. Corbett asserted that he investigated both Democrats and Republicans.  The blog pointed out that, during the second half of 2007, Republican legislative offices (both in Harrisburg and in the District) replaced all of their computers.

Before Brett Cott's sentencing hearing, Attorney General Corbett subpoenaed Twitter, in an attempt to prove that CasablancaPA is authored by Cott (h/t Capper).  The subpoena raised a hue and cry around the country, with accusations that Corbett is trying to chill critical speech and also accusations that he is abusing the grand jury process to obtain evidence to use in a sentencing hearing rather than to investigate a crime.  After the sentencing hearing, Corbett dropped the Twitter subpoena.  However, the ACLU has not dropped the issue.

Cott plans to appeal the sentence.  His attorney, Bryan Walk, said his client already has suffered greatly by being convicted of three crimes and will find it difficult to get a job. Maybe he should move to Wisconsin after he completes his sentence and ask Chuck Chvala for another job, in one of Chvala's private-sector businesses.

1 comment:

Dan said...

The sentence seems to be very extreme, unless he been actually stealing money. What he did was wrong, but as his lawyer, everybody does it. I think, Cott's case was pretty extreme but not worth 21 months. Maybe 6mo in jail with work release would have been more appropriate.
If he is getting 21 months, then his employer, whoever that was, should be 4 years, minimum.