SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) – A would-be Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate was not unconstitutionally barred from the ballot, even though the challenge by state legislators that prevented him from running was connected to the so-called Bonusgate scandal in Pennsylvania.
That scandal, one of the most sweeping corruption cases in Pennsylvania history, led to the arrests of 20 people, including the former state House Democratic whip and other legislators.
Carl Romanelli claimed in a July 2010 lawsuit that the Democratic Caucus in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives paid nearly $4,000 for copies of 3,704 pages containing 94,544 signatures nominating him to run.
The Caucus then illegally challenged his nomination by ordering state employees – “all paid by the Commonwealth with taxpayer money” – to work “day in and day out” to prevent him from being listed on the ballot, according to his suit.
During normal work hours, and as part of their campaign to disqualify Romanelli’s nominating signatures, Caucus staffers employed a computer program called the “Constituent Tracking Service,” which “was designed and intended for legitimate legislative use,” not for purely political turf wars, he claimed.
The “Herculean effort” paid off in the form of a document asserting “global challenges” to nearly 2,000 pages of signatures, and in September 2006, Romanelli was barred from running, according to his lawsuit.
“In his complaint, Romanelli asserts a constitutional right under the First Amendment to ‘run for federal office in an unimpared [sic] fashion,'” U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo noted in an 18-page opinion and order dismissing the suit for failure to state a claim. “As noted above, to the extent he claims a right to be free from Pennsylvania’s signature requirements, no such right exists.”
As was the case here, “When the validity of the signatures is challenged in accordance with state procedure, and the signatures are found to be in some way insufficient, it does not violate any constitutional right to deny the potential candidate access to the ballot,” Caputo continued.
Caputo acknowledged that in July 2008 “Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett announced … the grand jury presentment and indictment of those involved in various campaign improprieties, including Romanelli’s nomination paper challenge. The scandal became known as ‘Bonusgate,’ and encompassed the illegal use of state money and resources on political campaigns.”
But “Romanelli argues that the defendants violated state law by using state resources to challenge his nomination paper,” the judge wrote.
“The mere violation of state law does not state a [Section 1983] claim,” which is reserved for violations of federal rights, he found.
The Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus moved for sanctions against Romanelli, claiming his complaint was frivolous.
Caputo denied that motion, deeming sanctions unnecessary.