Sunday, August 21, 2005

LancasterOnline.com: News : Pay-raise foes claim harassment From Jubelirer Operatives Mike Long and Ron Harper Jr.

LancasterOnline.com: News : Pay-raise foes claim harassment: "LancasterOnline.com
Pay-raise foes claim harassment
Say Senate operative sent to intimidate them

By Charles Lardner, Intelligencer Journal Staff
Intelligencer Journal

Published: Aug 19, 2005 8:43 AM EST

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Ron Harper Jr. of Stevens, publisher of the political Web site 5thestate.com, has been directed by the state Senate Republican Caucus to intimidate and stifle critics of the controversial pay raise state lawmakers voted themselves last month, according to the chairman of a group critical of lawmakers' payraises.Chris Lilik, chairman of Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, said Harper, who works for the Senate Republican Caucus, has been threatening and harassing him because of his organization's campaign to unseat leaders in the General Assembly for the 16 to 37 percent pay raise lawmakers approved with no debate in the dark morning hours of July 7.

Harper denies the charge.

Over the weekend, Young Conservatives kicked off a campaign to erect billboards and run radio ads in the home districts of Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill and Majority Caucus chairman Sen. Noah Wenger, criticizing them for drawing up legislation behind closed doors that boosted lawmakers' annual salaries 16 to 37 percent -- to $89,050 for rank-and-file legislators and as much as $145,463 for those in leadership.

Wenger is a Stevens Republican who represents most of northern Lancaster County, and Brightbill represents a portion of the county's northwest. The details of what has been called a "shame campaign" can be viewed on the Young Conservatives' anti-pay-raise Web site, www.InformedPA.com.

The Young Conservatives want the Legislature to repeal the pay hike, saying it is unconstitutional because it allows lawmakers to skirt a provision in the state's constitution prohibiting lawmakers from taking a salary increase in the term in which they voted to approve it.

On Monday, Lilik said, he began getting "strange" phone calls from Harper.

"He said he really respected what I was doing but that I didn't know what I was up against and that he would even visit me in jail," Lilik said Thursday. "I took that as an implied threat."

After asking other members of Young Conservatives who Harper was, Lilik received an answer Tuesday.

"One of my friends called and said 'Chris, he's a private investigator for Senate Republicans,'"ˆ" Lilik said. "So when (Harper) called again Tuesday trying to arrange a meeting with me, I thought it was starting to get weird. So Wednesday when he called again and sounded angry, I just wanted to end it and get him off the phone."

Contacted Thursday, Harper denied Lilik's accusations and said he has not conducted any opposition research against the Young Conservatives.

"I am telling you that I have not contacted the Young Conservatives on the behalf of anybody and have not done any research," Harper said. "Anybody that says otherwise is an absolute liar."

Besides, Harper said, the Senate Republicans don't need to employ him to dig up dirt against the Young Conservatives because the organization is engaging in political advocacy without registering as a political action group.

"Do (Senate Republicans) really need to (use me) when they have a political action committee that hasn't filed the proper paperwork?" Harper said.

Legal action against the Young Conservatives is exactly the strategy that Mike Long, spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus and top aide to Jubelirer, is pursuing, Lilik said.

Long, he said, is openly encouraging supporters of Jubelirer and the Senate leadership to file lawsuits against the Young Conservatives.

"I know Mike Long has said in the press he is encouraging people to file lawsuits," Lilik said. "It is a sad day in America when a group like ours is going to be dragged into court and bankrupted just for opposing an unconstitutional pay raise."

In a phone interview Thursday, Long acknowledged that Harper works for Senate Republicans. But if Harper is calling the Young Conservatives, Long said, he isn't doing so on behalf of the Senate leadership or the Republican caucus.

"Ron is on contract, as I said to the paper a while ago, and he does a lot of different projects for us, but we have assigned nothing to him regarding the Young Conservatives," Long said.

"(Harper) is one of the leaders of the conservative movement in Pennsylvania," Long said. "I am sure there are a lot of conservative Republicans throughout Pennsylvania upset with what Mr. Lilik is doing -- trying to run campaigns against Republican leaders like Sen. Wenger and Sen. Brightbill."

But there are news reports that Harper has been involved in the past on Jubelirer's behalf in the sort of smear campaign Lilik is alleging.

According to a June 25, 2003, article in the Altoona Mirror, Blair County Commissioner John Eichelberger, who was in a primary campaign against a candidate supported by Jubelirer, said the Senate Pro Tempore employed Harper to "stalk" and photograph him.

Long has accused Lilik's Young Conservatives of attacking Jubelirer on behalf of Eichelberger, a longtime opponent of Jubelirer who is actively seeking support to unseat him in next May's GOP primary.

Eichelberger told the Mirror that Harper was a private detective who had "misread" the county's financial records and constructed "negative political brochures" with the pictures and financial information designed "ruin his career."

In the Mirror article, the Mirror reporters said they called Harper for comment on the matter but that he never returned their calls.

In Lancaster County, Harper, a self-proclaimed "good government advocate," followed and photographed former state Rep. John Barley and, more recently, former District Justice Richard Musser, in campaigns to remove the men from office.

Both men eventually resigned."

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