Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Onorato Money Phenomenon

It does tend to pour in hand over fist. Why is that, and should we be concerned?

"Ensuring that all contracts are competitive and putting limits on all donors eliminates any implied pressure on candidates that could potentially be associated with contributions. As Allegheny County Executive, Onorato has ensured that contracts are competitively awarded and he would do the same as governor," Herman wrote in an e-mail.

Democratic fundraiser and Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle, whose team got a publicly financed arena in a 2007 deal Onorato helped broker, gave $100,000 in December.

"Dan has received broad financial support for several years, and there has never been any correlation between his fundraising and his work in elected office. While the arena was funded in part by public money, county funds have not been used to pay for it*," Herman said.
(Mike Wereschagin, Tribune-Review)

The truth of Onorato's claims can at least partially be fact checked. This chart by the Post-Gazette is now a year old, but it shows some contributions made to the Allegheny County Executive tracked against county contracts received in 2008. Here are the immediately relevant portions:

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney (law firm)
$14,850 in contributions to Onorato
A $175,000 contract with the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA) and a $70,000 contract with the Airport Authority

Chester Engineers
$12,000 in contributions to Onorato
A $6.54 million planning contract, a $30,000 documentation contract, a $197,000 demonstration contract and a $70,000 engineering contract with the Sanitation Authority (ALCOSAN)

SAI Consulting Engineers
$5,250 in contributions to Onorato
A $559,000 design contract, a $157,000 management contract, a $73,000 increase in an engineering contract and a $549,000 increase in a management contract with the Airport Authority; as well as a $425,000 engineering contract with the Sanitation Authority (ALCOSAN).

When Onorato's spokesperson writes about "ensuring" that all contracts are "competitively awarded", does that equate to an outright ban on no-bid contracts? And would that extend to consulting contracts by financial, legal and other professionals? It's unclear at this point.

Did Onorato put anything solidly into place during his 6-year tenure to better ensure competitive contracting in Allegheny County? Were there any no-bid contracts during his tenure, such as some of the ones above? The answers seem to be no and yes, respectively.

A contemporaneous piece by the Post-Gazette quoted him on issues involved:

Mr. Onorato's campaign, apparently gearing up for the 2010 governor's race, raised $2.2 million last year due in part to big checks from vendors that work for the county and its authorities. Mr. Onorato delegates contracting to the county manager, and has "minimal" involvement, wrote Oren Shur, a campaign spokesman, in an e-mail. (P-G)

Updated data and more fact-checking are definitely required, but the smart money is that Dan Onorato falls short of the "Mr. Clean" persona he is adopting of late.

It's worth noting in general that when it comes to fund raising and a candidate's ability to really turn on the juice, individuals and PACs making transparent A to B contributions are only part of the story. Well-connected intermediaries can tap into networks of major donor interests, informally bundling significant sums to facilitate toward a candidate with relative discretion. Such intermediaries themselves might also have business or seek business before the government, though these connections are much harder to trace.

*-NOTE: The old home of the Penguins and Pittsburgh's civic multi-purpose arena, the Mellon Arena, sits on a 28-acre parcel of land abutting Downtown Pittsburgh that is owned by the public Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA) -- which is controlled jointly by the City and the County. Much of it is presently outdoor parking, along with an arena that will probably be demolished. Part of the "deal" struck with Penguins owner Ron Burkle was for the city and county to give the Penguins all the development rights up front for all 28 acres -- even though state subsidy and state-arranged casino license awardee money were heavily involved in financing the new arena. Estimates as to the value of that SEA land primed for redevelopment vary widely, but some in 2008 pegged it at $70 to $100 a square foot, or up to $122 million.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Talk about a wake up call:

Some of the Brewers apparently discussed how they could keep the game from getting further out of hand, and steps were taken. Manager Ken Macha replaced his entire heart of the order late in the game, and third base coach Brad Fischer had the stop sign up at every turn. (P-G, Dejan Kovacevic)

Now, some folks blame the Nuttings or Kevin McClatchy or whoever's in charge of the Pirates at any given moment -- but we really need to do something about Major League Baseball. The NFL and the NHL have things in place like broadcast revenue sharing and salary caps for teams. That encourages more competitive games and more engaging seasons and storylines -- thrilling families and consumers while strengthening everybody's bottom line. Thought you knew.


Pharmacy, woo!

Hill District residents rejoiced Thursday when they learned that Duquesne University in the fall will open the first pharmacy their neighborhood has seen in a decade. (P-G, Bill Zlatos)

No city officials have been quoted for these stories that I can see. Can it be that the private sector -slash- higher education -slash- the faith community just cold stepped up to the plate? The Hill House also had to have something to do with this, if not formally then by simply being right there.

Got to love the Dukes for this -- this is a BFD -- but got to expect them to bring it up next time Pittsburgh talks about levying taxes on or motivating payments in lieu of taxes from our eds, meds and insurers. Different conversation. Apples and orchards. Oranges and groves.


Now guess who gets to tangle with the Legacy of Legal Excellence? The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, that's who.

A spokesman for Mr. Zappala's office declined to comment. (P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

The OOR is an agency of Penna. state government, its determinations are binding (see .pdf) and the 30 day window for filing an appeal has passed.

It appears as though D.A. Zappala is forcing the defendant to litigate his own performance of the execution of her duly established rights -- thereby dragging the affair out and compelling her to keep contracting her most expensive and sophisticated attorneys. This would make sense if the D.A. represented any other kind of plaintiff in the world ("She deserves it, let her suffer!"), but D.A. stands for District Attorney. So it has to be something else -- at least officially.

*-UPDATE: D.A. Zappala asserts "This is all nonsense." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)


I wouldn't be playing straight with you if I didn't share with you this piece. Who knows, it may complicate things. Something about the reemergence of the former Governor of Illinois seems epic in its inevitability.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Britain's Obama, or Britain's Howard Dean?

Yes, We Clegg:

Time will tell. My money? This Goldman Sachs thing is deeper than any of us realize.

It's a Masterpiece

From Commissioner Goodell:

"That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans." (P-G, Ed Bouchette)

Rothlisberger was notified that he would undertake "a two-step approach that is designed to hold the quarterback accountable for his conduct and provide him an opportunity to change his behavior and establish himself as a responsible individual."