Nader accuses Corbett of a conflict of interest

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HARRISBURG -- Frequent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is asking state Attorney General Tom Corbett to return $15,900 in campaign contributions received from a Pittsburgh-based law firm that helped House Democrats coordinate a 2004 effort to have Mr. Nader thrown off the Pennsylvania ballot.

Those Democrats now are under investigation by Mr. Corbett's office for using state resources to have legislative aides work on the petition challenges during work time. Democrats wanted Mr. Nader off the ballot so he wouldn't take votes from Democratic candidate John Kerry.

Mr. Nader was removed as a result of invalid petition signatures.

Evidence in the ongoing investigation, which has become known as Bonusgate, indicates that the law firm Reed Smith LLP assisted in the petition challenge.

Campaign finance reports show that the firm and its partners contributed at least $15,900 to Mr. Corbett's re-election campaign in August 2008, a month after Mr. Corbett filed criminal charges against 12 House Democrats in investigation.

Mr. Corbett's office could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Nader's attorney, Oliver Hall, said that Mr. Corbett told him Friday that he did not intend to return the contributions.

Reed Smith spokeswoman Jamie Moss said that the firm contributes regularly to candidates of both parties who are running for many different offices, including Mr. Corbett.

"We reject any allegation that these contributions were in any way improper, either for our firm or Mr. Corbett," Ms. Moss said yesterday.

Mr. Hall said he does not believe the integrity of the investigation has been compromised, but said it is a conflict of interest for an investigator to take campaign contributions from someone associated with an investigation he is overseeing.

In a separate letter yesterday, Mr. Nader asked Gov. Ed Rendell to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Reed Smith's connections to Bonusgate.

"Reed Smith's reported contributions to Attorney General Corbett during an ongoing criminal investigation that apparently involves Reed Smith create a clear and unacceptable conflict of interest," Mr. Nader wrote to the governor. "Whether or not they have been charged with a crime, parties involved in a criminal investigation cannot give the prosecuting attorney thousands of dollars in campaign contributions without destroying the integrity of the investigation."

The governor does not have the power to appoint special prosecutors, spokesman Chuck Ardo said.

Mr. Hall already had been pressing Mr. Corbett for months to investigate the involvement of Reed Smith in the petition challenges that allegedly were funded by state tax dollars.

"The ultimate victims," Mr. Hall wrote in a letter to Mr. Corbett in January, "are the voters and taxpayers of Pennsylvania, who were systematically deprived of a free choice of candidates in their elections, and unwittingly paid for it with their own tax dollars."

Reed Smith also represented a group of Pennsylvania Democrats who sued to have Mr. Nader removed from the ballot.

In an unprecedented ruling, Commonwealth Court ordered Mr. Nader to pay $81,102 for those plaintiffs' legal bills after he lost the right to stay on the ballot.

Mr. Nader is appealing that decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.


Tracie Mauriello can be reached at tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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