2009-04-30 / Local & State

Lobbyist Notes To Rendell Mix Charm And Pressure

By Mark Scolforo ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Newly disclosed correspondence between Gov. Ed Rendell and lobbyists from last year shows he received particular pressure regarding a property assessment bill he eventually vetoed and a stalled proposal to extend health coverage to more of the uninsured.

Rendell released 306 pages of correspondence from calendar year 2008 in response to a request from The Associated Press under the state's revised Right-to-Know Law that took effect in January.

The correspondence covers a vast range of public policy issues, from teacher qualifications and prison reform bills to the expiration of electricity rate caps and even cocoa import issues at Philadelphia's port.

Among the most contentious matters was a bill that would have limited the ability of municipalities and school districts to appeal for an increase in a property's assessed value if the sales price shows its market value is considerably higher. Rendell vetoed it on Oct. 17.

About two dozen letters dealt with health care issues, including a program that has helped doctors pay malpractice insurance premiums and Rendell's efforts to expand health coverage.

The Democratic governor also received invitations to dozens of events, several thankyou messages and some flattery.

An official with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy wrote to thank him for a $1 million grant for the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece Fallingwater, and the president of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce told him "the record of your administration as a catalyst for local economic development cannot be matched.''

Tim Reeves, who served as Republican Gov. Tom Ridge's press secretary, wrote in June to remark that Rendell has a "very nice fundraiser touch'' and to mention that his public relations firm, the Neiman Group, was "working with your team on a number of important matters - Major League Soccer, (the) turnpike lease and some percolating Hershey matters.''

Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said the decision to release the documents shows Rendell's commitment to governmental transparency.

"I think what these demonstrate are not only the demands on his time, but more clearly demands on his attention,'' Ardo said. "Even if he's unable to attend an event that he is invited to, he still needs to consider it, deal with it and respond to it.''

Nearly all of the correspondence was incoming, but they also included a December letter from Rendell to former Gov. Mark Schweiker, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, asking for a donation to a public relations campaign regarding a new state law that imposes a 20-year mandatory sentence for assaulting a police officer.

The chamber's $15,000 contribution was announced the next month.

Rendell also received invitations to an event held by the Little Sisters of the Poor of Philadelphia, a continental breakfast at the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp, Bethlehem's Musikfest and - from former Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer - to stay at the restored Bedford Springs Hotel.

The AP's records request covered the governor, his Legislative Affairs Secretary Steve Crawford and his Policy Secretary Donna Cooper. Some documents, including communication with the state's lobbyist on federal matters, were withheld under the law's "predecisional deliberations'' exception.

"There's already been a lot of dispute about the whole deliberative, predecisional business,'' said Kim de Bourbon, executive director of the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition. "It's a very, very gray area.''

Although the request was for lobbyist correspondence, not all the letters Rendell released were from registered lobbyists. The copying fee was $77.

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