Santorum donors give to Green Party They helped fund a drive to get Carl Romanelli on the ballot, which some say may hurt Bob Casey Jr.

Posted: August 01, 2006

When Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) encouraged everyone in state politics to help the Green Party earn a spot on the November ballot, at least one group answered the call: Santorum donors.

Fourteen Santorum supporters gave $40,000 to fund a petition drive that has allowed Carl Romanelli to collect about 100,000 voter signatures to qualify for the Senate race. That's 33,000 more signatures than required, and double what independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader gathered here in 2004.

But Romanelli and the Green Party of Luzerne County, which collected the money, might have violated federal election law in the process.

In his latest campaign-finance reports, Romanelli listed $66,000 as an in-kind contribution from the Green Party. Such donations cannot exceed $5,000, said Ian Stirton, a Federal Election Commission spokesman, who spoke generally about election law and not about this specific case.

Romanelli said if he and the Green Party didn't follow federal rules, it wasn't intentional.

"Do I have a team of lawyers at my disposal? No," Romanelli said last night as he drove to Philadelphia to collect petitions to submit by today's deadline. "We were trying to honestly disclose where our help came from when, in fact, it was activity of the party and didn't need to be disclosed on the Senate side."

Romanelli made no excuses for Santorum's donor support, but denied coordination.

"Both Republicans and Democrats have this notion that, if Greens are in the race, Democrats lose votes," said Romanelli, a railroad-industry consultant from the Wilkes-Barre area. "If that was going to motivate someone to contribute, I am fine with that."

For more than two months, Romanelli has attracted considerable attention from Santorum, who is trailing Democrat Bob Casey Jr. in the polls. As an abortion-rights, anti-Iraq war candidate, Romanelli could siphon votes from Casey, who opposes abortion and a timetable for pulling out of Iraq.

It's created an unlikely alliance.

"We have encouraged those who have inquired or asked to assist in this effort," said Virginia Davis, Santorum's spokeswoman, of the Green Party petitions. She declined to provide specifics. "I think the bigger question here is why is Bob Casey going to such extremes to silence another voice in the Democratic process?"

Larry Smar, a Casey spokesman, said Santorum was being hypocritical. He did not debate third-party candidates in 2000, but is now "using the Green Party as a political pawn," Smar said.

"He is trying to get someone else on the fall ballot to steal votes," Smar said.

State law puts the signature requirement at 2 percent of the ballots cast for the largest vote-getter in the last statewide election race. Casey set the bar during his 2004 state treasurer's race. He received 3.4 million votes, which works out to 67,070 signatures - more than twice the required amount in either 2002 or 2004.

The petition drive, which involved a mix of volunteers and paid workers, was funded with $34,000 from a dozen individuals who contributed to Santorum's reelection campaign. An additional $6,000 came from individuals who lived at the same addresses as Santorum donors.

The Taylor family of Salinas, Calif., was the most active. Steven and Kathryn Taylor and two others at the same address who listed their occupation as students contributed $10,000 to the Green Party; five Taylor family members have contributed $20,700 to Santorum's reelection campaign.

Smar said Casey has not decided whether to challenge Romanelli's petitions in court.

Contact staff writer Carrie Budoff at 610-313-8211 or cbudoff@phillynews.com.

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