She's a big donor to politicians, but it's news to her

Allegheny County's biggest contributions come from 90-year-old widow

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The single largest donor to Allegheny County candidates this year is a 90-year-old Upper St. Clair widow who hasn't voted for seven years and says she never agreed to give $10,000 each to four Republican candidates, including one for Superior Court and three for Allegheny County Council.

Attorney Charles P. McCullough and, below, the four who each received $10,000 checks.
Judge Cheryl Allen
County Council member Susan Caldwell
County Council member Vince Gastgeb
County Council member Jan Rea

Shirley H. Jordan, whose late husband, attorney Fred Jordan, pioneered workers' compensation law and invested widely, is on record with contributions of $10,000 each to Cheryl Allen, who is seeking the GOP nomination for Superior Court, and County Council candidates Vince Gastgeb, Jan Rea and Susan Caldwell. The checks were drawn from the Shirley Jordan Trust, housed at Northwest Savings Bank, and signed by a bank trustee.

In an interview this week, Mrs. Jordan insisted she never approved any political donations and only learned of one when she received a telephone call thanking her for her support. She said she had no idea the donation had been given and expressed shock when a reporter told her the amount.

"My God, that's terrible. I would never give $10,000 to politics. I can tell you that," she said.

She blamed the donation on her attorney, Charles McCullough, himself a candidate for County Council. Mr. McCullough took control of Mrs. Jordan's affairs following a court dispute that began after she was taken in 2005 to St. Clair Hospital, where a doctor diagnosed her with moderate dementia. A Common Pleas Court judge later declared her incapacitated.

"I have an attorney who is ambitious to be active in politics," she said. "It was not my decision. I knew nothing about it. Then I find he has control of everything and he's spending it right and left. He's a cheap politician."

Mr. McCullough, a Pittsburgh attorney and a Republican candidate for an at-large council seat in the May primary, said the donations were made after he consulted with Mrs. Jordan, who he said likely "dummied up" on a visiting stranger. He was not among candidates receiving the contributions, although he said he assembled a list of potential recipients for Mrs. Jordan's donations.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she told you she wasn't [aware of the donations] but, again, she's not going to tell you her business," Mr. McCullough said.

Mrs. Jordan's affairs were the subject of a dispute in Allegheny County Orphans' Court beginning in 2005 when a social caseworker asked the court to appoint her guardian for Mrs. Jordan. The case began after Mrs. Jordan had been taken to St. Clair Hospital after becoming confused and telling police she heard voices.

A physician's report said she "does not remember the name of the current president and the only president she remembered was Lincoln." She was diagnosed with moderate dementia.

Her previous attorney, Stephen Paschall, said Mrs. Jordan subsequently appeared to have recovered from the 2005 episode and that she had a good understanding of her financial matters.

In a half-hour interview at an Upper St. Clair senior residence, Mrs. Jordan discussed politics, her financial affairs and her interest in charity. She volunteered some opinions about the current president -- she does not like George W. Bush, she said -- and complained bitterly about donations she said she is certain she neither approved nor was aware of.

Mr. McCullough said he had discussed politics with Mrs. Jordan and had given her a list of various candidates for office to whom she could give. Mrs. Allen, the judicial candidate, as well as Mr. Gastgeb, also serve on the board of the Fred J. and Shirley H. Jordan Charitable Foundation -- which Mr. McCullough said was established by her and her late husband in estate documents written 11 years ago.

The foundation was created in June of last year and Mr. McCullough invited a number of local officials, all Republicans, to sit on the board.

He said Mrs. Jordan was especially impressed with Mrs. Allen.

"She was really impressed with Cheryl's story and the fact that Cheryl would be willing to lend her time to the foundation as it's moving forward," he said.

In an interview, however, Mrs. Jordan indicated that she hadn't heard of the judicial candidate whose campaign called to thank her for her contribution.

"Well, who is he?" she asked an interviewer.

Told the candidate was a woman, named Cheryl Allen, Mrs. Jordan snapped: "Well, I would never vote for her anyway." She declined to give a reason.

Judge Allen's campaign treasurer, Deborah Lesko, yesterday said she received the $10,000 check in Mrs. Jordan's name unexpectedly.

"As a judge, Cheryl's not involved in the contribution aspect of it," Ms. Lesko said. "I just received a check in the mail."

Ms. Lesko declined to say whether the campaign had any discussions with Mr. McCullough or anyone else after having received the check, but stressed that its contact with Mrs. Jordan was a thank-you note, which Ms. Lesko said she sent.

Mrs. Jordan's donation accounts for nearly all of the $13,000 Judge Allen reported raising in the first quarter of 2007.

Mr. McCullough said he met Mrs. Jordan a decade ago when she sued Upper St. Clair, where he serves as solicitor. She attempted to prevent the township from installing sidewalks outside her home. A court ruled that the township could install the sidewalks.

A year ago she dismissed her private attorney after she was admitted to St. Clair Hospital, and later signed a document giving Mr. McCullough her power of attorney, a move that halted a judicial proceeding in which a psychiatric social worker was attempting to have herself appointed guardian.

In the ensuing months, Mr. McCullough said, he talked politics with his client, who he said had once been active in Republican circles.

"She indicated to me that she wanted to get more involved, reinvolved in some of her political activities," Mr. McCullough said. "She asked me if there are good people out there that can use some help. I suggested a number of names to her. We talked about them more and she seemed to be more interested in helping local people and she thought she could make a difference." He said he offered a list of names, notably that of Judge Allen.

None of the candidates who received the checks has ever met Mrs. Jordan. One, Ms. Caldwell, initially insisted she could not comment, "because I don't have my records in front of me. I really can't help you. I don't memorize names and checks."

Her campaign manager, Christa Meeder, later confirmed the donation. "Was she aware of it? Yeah, yeah. She knows about the donation. I have the paperwork." The check, she said, "was handed to us by Chuck McCullough and I think he took it upon himself to help the candidates raise funds and we're very grateful."

Both Mr. Gastgeb and Ms. Rea acknowledged receiving the donations, which are not required to be reported until the May 5 deadline for local candidates.

"I'm not going to say it's common not to know who might send you a check, but there are some people I haven't met that have sent me money," Mr. Gastgeb said. "Not $10,000, but I don't know if $10,000 to her is like $100 to you and me."

Mrs. Jordan's legal papers indicate a net worth of at least $8.5 million, while Mr. McCullough put her wealth as "into the eight figures."

Mr. McCullough said Mrs. Jordan had been politically active and was once a "Goldwater Girl," one of the legion of women who campaigned for the 1964 Republican presidential candidate.

A check of political donation databases -- some stretching to 1980, others to 1990 -- draws a blank on any donations by Mrs. Jordan.

She gave no money, at least since 1980, to state Sen. D. Michael Fisher, one of the most aggressive Republican fund-raisers in the South Hills, gave no donations on the Federal Elections Commission database of donations and gave no money to either the state Senate or congressional campaigns of U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

Nor were Allegheny County Republican Party officials aware of Mrs. Jordan or any prior history of political giving.

Ken Presutti, executive director of the Allegheny County Republican Committee, said yesterday that he searched the party's database of donors, which stretches to 1995, and was unable to find any mention of Mrs. Jordan.

"I have not seen anything," he said.

Informed that her name had appeared on four checks for $10,000, he registered surprise.

"This is the first I'm hearing about it," he said. "I'm surprised. I haven't heard of her before."


Dennis B. Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.


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