Westmoreland County Republicans on Friday accused county government officials of promoting the campaign of U.S. Rep John Murtha using taxpayer resources. John Panichella, the director of the county's Veterans Affairs Office, is coordinating a bus trip for this morning's pro-Murtha rally in Johnstown and doing so from his fifth-floor office in the courthouse, according to Westmoreland GOP Chairman Perry Christopher.How on God's green earth can't Mr. Panichella not think that this isn't an FEC violation? It's noteworthy that "representatives from Murtha's campaign contacted him several weeks ago and asked that he coordinate the bus trip so local veterans could attend the rally." They might've had a fig leaf of cover had Murtha's representatives asked that the VA arrange transportation for both rallies. It wouldn't have been legal but it would've had provided them with a modest bit of cover. They didn't even do that, possibly because John Murtha thinks of the VA as a bought-and-paid-for arm of the Re-elect John Murtha apparatus.
"It's not proper use of government and it's not right," Christopher said. "This is a partisan event, and I don't think he can use his office like that. It makes it look like the department of Veterans Affairs supports Murtha, and I don't believe the county can do that."
Panichella did not dispute the allegations, but said he never viewed his efforts as political. He said representatives from Murtha's campaign contacted him several weeks ago and asked that he coordinate the bus trip so local veterans could attend the rally. Panichella said no county tax dollars are being used to pay for the bus or any of his organizing activities. "I was organizing veterans in support of John Murtha. It didn't matter if they were Democrat or Republican," Panichella said.
On literature promoting the Murtha rally, Panichella is listed as a local contact for veterans who wanted to attend the campaign event. He is identified as head of the county's Veterans Affairs Office along with a telephone number that rings through to his desk at the courthouse. Panichella said he never cleared his actions through the county's law department.
Assistant County Solicitor Debra Nicholson said she had no information about the issue nor was she aware if Panichella had violated any county ordinances by promoting political activity while on the job. Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Balya, a Democrat and Murtha supporter, called Panichella's actions a minor impropriety. "It was an unintentional mistake by Mr. Panichella and it won't happen again," Balya said.
Let's hope that Mr. Panichella is fired for using his office to coordinate a major Murtha campaign event. It's also telling that Murtha and Panichella didn't hide the fact that "Panichella is listed as a local contact for veterans who wanted to attend the [Murtha] campaign event" and that he's "identified as head of the county's Veterans Affairs Office along with a telephone number that rings through to his desk at the courthouse."
Why shouldn't we believe that Panichella knew exactly what he was doing and that what he was doing was illegal? The fact that Mr. Balya said that "It was an unintentional mistake by Mr. Panichella and it won't happen again" tells us that Balya immediately recognized that Mr. Panichella was busted. It's also apparent that Balya tried downplaying the incident to the media.
Before it sounds like we're ripping on just Mr. Panichella, let's also make clear that the lion's share of the blame belongs to Murtha's campaign. Based on this information, it's apparent that they're the people that initiated the contact. They're the people that gave Mr. Panichella his marching orders. The fact that Panichella did what he was told doesn't absolve the Murtha campaign of its rightful share of the blame.
In fact, it shows that John Murtha thought that he'd paid for this service with his 'pork machine'. Shame on John Murtha for thinking that. It's just the latest reason why Murtha Must Go.
Technorati: Election 2006, Murtha, Veterans Administration, Ethics
Cross-posted at LetFreedomRingBlog