State Representative Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) received more political contributions last year than all of the other five state reps for Beaver County combined, an investigation by the Beaver Countian has revealed.
Campaign finance reports from 2012 show Christiana received nearly $310,000 in political donations. Democratic Representative Rob Maztie came in a distant second, bringing in just shy of $84,000. Representative Jim Marshall, the county’s other Republican representative, received only $52,675 in contributions.
In just one month, between March 6th and April 9th of last year, Christiana’s campaign saw donations to his campaign in excess of $88,000. He brought in half of that sum again between April 10th and May 14th, another $48,000. The months between May and October saw an additional $164,400 added to his coffers. Despite extensive spending by the candidate, Christiana’s campaign account had over a quarter of a million dollars sitting in it at one point during the last election cycle.
By comparison, Christiana’s rival in the last election, Democrat Bobby Williams, raised just over $20,000 during his entire campaign.
While Representative Christiana failed to respond to inquiries from the Beaver Countian made at the end of March, Beaver County Commissioners say they were stunned to learn just how much money has been flowing through his hands.
“I find it very surprising to hear that amount of cash would be available to a state level candidate like Jim Christiana,” said Beaver County Commissioner Dennis Nichols, a fellow Republican. “I can’t help but to wonder why people would be giving him that much money.”
“And he talks about us… I would like to know what on earth he spent all of that on,” added Democratic Commissioner Tony Amadio. Representative Christiana recently wrote a letter to the editor, in which he criticized the Beaver County Commissioners for what he asserted was a lack of transparency.
The Lavish Spending
Jim Christiana maintains a publicly funded district office on Brodhead Road in Center Township. That office, like similar ones run by all state reps, is paid for with tax dollars, and provides constituent services to the general public (It is interesting to note, the office is leased for $1,817 per month from Charles Betters, one of Christiana’s major campaign contributors). But Christiana is the only representative in Beaver County, and one of the few representatives in the state, to maintain a privately funded campaign office that runs year-round.
Located on Third Street in Beaver, the office is staffed by a full-time campaign worker, Jennifer Price, who he pays $51,000 a year to help manage his political activities and organize various fundraising efforts. Christiana spent an additional $7,500 to pay Joshua Konecheck, a staffer who worked for his campaign part-time last year. Thousands more were spent to lease the office situated above Mario’s Pizza, and to pay for other operating expenses associated with the location, including more than $3,800 to Verizon Wireless.
Over $3,000 was spent by Christiana’s Campaign last year on cigars, bought from places like Tinderbox International located in Harrisburg, which specializes in selling “the world’s finest cigars.” Finance Reports also show Christiana spent thousands paying for meals during “meetings” at places including the Hershey Country Club, Laurel Valley Golf Club, Rivercrest Golf Club, the Club at Shadow Lakes, Heinz Field, PNC Park, the Capital Grille in Pittsburgh, and the swanky Cioppino Restaurant and Cigar Bar. Those meal expenses don’t include the thousands spent as part of fundraisers held by the candidate.
In December of last year, Christiana traveled to New York City to attend the annual “Pennsylvania Society Holiday Dinner“, an event the Philadelphia Enquirer has dubbed an opportunity for “wealthy special interests to mingle with the movers and shakers in state government.”
Christiana’s campaign spent over $4,500 for him to attend the function, which included a $114 haircut at The Art Of Shaving on Madison Avenue, $184 spent on Cigars, hundreds spent on clothing at shops like Astor & Black and Johnston & Murphy, along with a $1,400 hotel bill from the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. The campaign also paid an additional $1,684 directly to Jim Christian as un-itemized “PA Society Expense Reimbursements.”
Also notable among Christiana’s expenses last year: $1,200 in dues to the Fort McIntosh Club in Beaver (a men’s club that “provides leaders with a unique opportunity for social interaction”), $1,895 paid to the US Postal Service in Beaver on October 26th to “overnight a package to Harrisburg” (Christiana didn’t respond to inquiries about the shipment), and $2,500 to reimburse a donation from Nick Trombetta (founder of the Pennsylvania Charter Cyber School, whose office was recently raided by the FBI).
Representative Christiana also gave a total of $85,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) last year in “donations” and “contributions.”
The Big Donors
The vast majority of Representative Jim Christiana’s campaign donations came from large Political Action Committees (PACs). The largest of those was the Students First PAC, a Pennsylvania group backed by large hedge fund managers and wealthy national school voucher advocates. On March 26th of last year, the group donated $25,000 to Christiana, followed by $10,000 on October 9th, $25,000 on October 12th, $25,000 on October 15th, $15,000 on October 16th, and another $25,000 on October 22nd. All said, Christiana raked in a staggering $125,000 last year from the organization.
The Fighting Chance PA PAC, another pro-voucher group (which shares the name of a purported grassroots campaign affiliated with the Pennsylvania Catholic Coalition), gave $25,000 to Christiana last May.
Last July, the Beaver Countian published an exhaustive investigative report which revealed ties between Students First, Fighting Chance, and yet another PAC, “Commonsense For The Commonwealth.” Students First and Fighting Chance had donated a combined $120,000 to Common Sense, but “accidentally” mailed those checks to Jim Christiana’s campaign office in Beaver. The Treasurer for Common Sense, which has a registered address in Harrisburg, turned out to be Scott Wolford, one of Christiana’s long time friends and political supporters who lives in Brighton Township.
Christiana also received $7,500 from a similarly named “Parents And Teachers for Putting Students First”, which lists itself as “an affiliate of Students First.” That organization’s website features a large photo of Christiana, declaring him to be one of their “Featured Endorsements.”
Other large donations included $10,000 from Michael Guerra (who owns a trucking company in Washington, PA), $5,000 each from Chuck Betters (local real estate tycoon) and Mark Betters, $5,000 from Walmart’s PAC, $5,000 from Anthony Alexander (CEO of First Energy) along with $2,600 from First Energy PAC, $5,000 from David Barensfeld (notable Republican campaign contributor and CEO of the Ellwood Group), $1,000 from Morry David (brother of Sheriff George David), and donations from an alphabet soup of other PACs including PA Life PAC, Highmark Health PAC, Markwest Liberty PAC, Hospitals Association of Pennsylvania PAC, Chesapeake Energy PAC, Alpha Natural Resources PAC, Comcast Corporation & NBC Universal PAC, Z PAC (Pennsylvania Society of Anesthesiologists), The Bank of New York Mellon Corp PAC, PECO Energy PAC, Bank Of America Corp PAC, Eckert Seamans PA PAC, Keystone Leadership PAC, PA Insurance PAC, PA Bar PAC, PA Medical PAC, Family PAC, PA Bankers PAC, among others.
Representative Christiana sponsored 165 House Bills in the last legislative session, 9 of which listed him as the primary sponsor.
Christiana’s House Bill 240 sought to establish an “open enrollment program” that would allow students to attend a public school district of their choosing. House Bill 1708 would provide public funds in the form tax credits and grants for students to attend private and parochial schools. House Bill 15 established PennWATCH, a public online database of all state government expenditures.
Other legislation proposed by Christiana included a mandate to sell the Governor’s Mansion, providing for certificates of death without a cause of death listed, along with designating January as “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month,” and October 17 as “Interior Design Day.”
In-Depth: Searchable Expense And Contribution Reports