Former Beaver County Democratic Commissioner Joe Spanik violated state ethnics laws by using taxpayer funded resources while in office to benefit his political campaigns, according to findings by the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission stipulated to by Spanik.
The Beaver Countian was first to report about Spanik’s use of public resources for political purposes in an investigative report it published on January 21st of last year, titled, “Trove Of Joe Spanik Campaign Materials Found On County Computer.”
Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier subsequently recused his office from investigating the matter, forwarding accusations made by county officials to the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission. According to an announcement made this week by the Commission, Spanik entered into a Consent Agreement following an investigation by the agency.
As part of his admissions, Spanik entered into an agreement with the Ethics Commission that will see him pay a total of $1,000 from his personal funds — including $750 to the County of Beaver and $250 to the State Ethics Commission. He will also file complete and accurate amended Statements of Financial Interests for the years 2011, 2012, and 2015. He has agreed he will not accept any reimbursement, compensation or other payment from Beaver County for the amount paid to settle the matter.
Former Commissioner Joe Spanik has stipulated to the following findings of fact in his case as summarized in a statement issued by the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission:
Spanik served as a County Commissioner (“Commissioner”) from January 5, 2004, to January 3, 2016. Spanik was re-elected as a Commissioner in 2007 and 2011. Spanik ran for re-election in 2015, but he was defeated in the November 2015 general election.
The County is governed by a three-member Board of Commissioners. The County Commissioners Office (“Commissioners Office “) is located on the first floor of the County Courthouse. The Commissioners Office is composed, in pertinent part, of a communal open area and separate private offices for each of the three Commissioners. Work stations for individuals employed in the position of administrative assistant/confidential secretary are situated at various locations in the communal open area. Each administrative assistant/confidential secretary working in the Commissioners Office is assigned an individual telephone /extension, a desktop computer, internet access, a County email address, and access to the County IT network system (“County Network “).
Three administrative assistant/confidential secretary positions existed concurrently within the Commissioners Office during Spanik’s tenure as a Commissioner. Each administrative assistant/confidential secretary served as a general administrative assistant for the Commissioners Office as well as a confidential secretary for one of the three Commissioners. Lisa Walker (“Walker “) served as Spanik’s administrative assistant/confidential secretary throughout his tenure as a Commissioner. From 2011 through 2015, Walker was assigned or had access to a County landline telephone, a County email address, at least two separate desktop computers, and a private file on the County Network.
Shortly after Spanik took office as a Commissioner, he began using Walker to assist with his campaigns for re-election. Spanik requested Walker’s assistance while in the County Courthouse. As Spanik’s administrative assistant/confidential secretary, Walker felt obligated to assist Spanik with his campaign/re-election efforts. Spanik’s re-election as a Commissioner provided “job security” for Walker as newly-elected Commissioners were not obligated to retain the existing administrative assistants /confidential secretaries in the County Commissioners Office upon taking office.
From at least February 2007 through December 2015, Spanik utilized the services of a campaign committee, “Friends for Joe Spanik” (the “Campaign Committee”), to support his political campaign efforts. The Campaign Committee was composed of a group of individuals, including Walker, who participated in Spanik’s campaign/re-election efforts. In 2009, Walker began serving as the Secretary for the Campaign Committee. Walker’s services to the Campaign Committee included, but were not limited to, generating letters, mailing letters, making telephone calls, sending and receiving emails and text messages, working at fundraising events, tracking fundraising event information, and the like. Walker provided her personal cellular telephone number and personal email address to members of the Campaign Committee as contact points.
Spanik provided Walker with his personal laptop computer for her to use in the performance of campaign/fundraising-related work. Walker utilized Spanik’s personal laptop computer for campaign/fundraising purposes both at her home and at the County Commissioners Office. Walker provided Spanik with work completed on his personal laptop computer via various mediums, including email and portable USB drive.
Between 2011 and 2015, Walker performed campaign/fundraising activities for Spanik using County resources on County time. Walker emailed campaign/fundraising-related information from Spanik’s personal laptop computer to her County email address for Spanik to review. Even though Walker had informed various individuals associated with Spanik’s campaign/fundraising efforts to utilize her personal Yahoo email account, she received campaign/fundraising-related emails at her County email address from outside sources. Walker routinely opened campaign/fundraising emails on her County computer during regular County work hours. Walker forwarded various campaign/fundraising emails to Spanik’s County email address or printed them on the County printer for Spanik to review. Walker forwarded a significant number of campaign/fundraising emails received at her County email address from outside sources to her personal email address or the email address for the Campaign Committee. The total number of campaign/fundraising emails that Walker received, forwarded, or printed via use of County resources and the amount of County time used in relation to such emails could not be determined.
During her County work hours, Walker used County telephones to receive and make calls related to Spanik’s re-election campaign. Walker received campaign/fundraising- related calls on her personal cellular telephone as well as her County landline telephone while in the County Commissioners Office. Walker routinely informed the callers of her need to return the call while on her break or lunch period or provided the callers with contact information of another Campaign Committee member.
Walker saved multiple documents relating to Spanik’s campaign/fundraising efforts to her private file on the County Network between 2011 and 2015. At times, Walker generated or modified campaign fundraising related documents while in the County Commissioners Office and saved them to the County Network. Walker typically completed these campaign/fundraising-related tasks while on her lunch or break periods, and she primarily used Spanik’s personal laptop computer in a vacant office within the County Commissioners Office. From July 2011 through August 2015, a minimum of twenty-three campaign fundraising documents were saved to the County Network.
At times, Spanik directed Walker to generate campaign/fundraising-related documents during her regular work hours in the County Commissioners Office. Walker prepared various campaign/fundraising-related documents at Spanik’s direction via use of County resources, including computers.
In 2015, Spanik purchased and maintained a cellular telephone (“Campaign Cell Phone”) in association with his campaign/fundraising efforts. Spanik placed a voice mail message on his County-issued cellular telephone (“County Cell Phone”) advising callers to contact a separate number if the reason for the call to Spanik was campaign- related. Spanik continued to use his County landline and County Cell Phone numbers as points of contact after purchasing the Campaign Cell Phone.
Spanik or the Campaign Committee routinely sponsored or scheduled at least one major fundraising dinner event or golf outing per calendar year. The organization of golf outings was accomplished with the assistance of a Golf Committee that primarily consisted of a small group of individuals involved with the Campaign Committee. In 2014, Spanik utilized Walker’s direct dial County telephone number in the County Commissioners Office as a point of contact for Golf Committee members to indicate whether they would be attending a meeting of the Golf Committee.
During the time frame of July 2011 through December 2015, Spanik or the Campaign Committee sponsored a minimum of five separate fundraisers for Spanik’s campaign efforts. Spanik primarily arranged the scheduling of these events, and the telephone number for his County Cell Phone was utilized as a point of contact for the scheduling or booking of some of these events. Spanik’s County Cell Phone number was on file with the Beaver County Country Club as a contact number for Spanik for golf outings in 2012 and 2015. Spanik’s County Cell Phone number and his County email address were initially on file as points of contact for Spanik with regard to a dinner event at the Seven Oaks Country Club in 2013. Spanik’s County Cell Phone number was also on file with The Fez as a contact number for Spanik for a dinner event in 2015.
In 2015, Spanik utilized Creative Visions Media Services ( “Creative Visions” ) a marketing/strategic planning company, to manage his 2015 golf outing fundraiser and develop, organize, and manage campaign postcard mailings for the primary election.
Upon contracting with Creative Visions in 2015, Spanik informed Amy Taylor (“Taylor”) of Creative Visions that separation was required between his re-election efforts and his position as a Commissioner. Creative Visions had Spanik’s and Walker’s County contact information, including telephone numbers and email addresses, as a result of the initial meeting between Spanik and Taylor. Spanik provided Creative Visions with his personal cell phone number and the Campaign Committee email address as contact points for campaign fundraising-related matters, and he advised Creative Visions representatives to avoid utilizing his County contact points for campaign-related issues.
Although provided with personal or non-County related contact points, Creative Visions utilized Spanik’s County contact points for issues requiring immediate attention, such as if a proof nearing a print deadline required approval. Spanik also retained Picture This Media Group to provide graphic design services for the layout and design of a campaign mailer and voter letter regarding the 2015 general election. A minimum of thirty-six email transmissions related to campaign/fundraising events occurred between Walker’s County email account and email accounts for representatives of Creative Visions, Picture This Media Group, or the Campaign Committee.
The parties have stipulated that during the time frame of June 2011 through August 2015, Walker utilized a minimum of approximately seventeen and one-third hours of County time to perform campaign/fundraising-related secretarial services for Spanik that were valued at a minimum of $415.63. See, Fact Findings 62, 63.
From 2012 through 2015, Pamela Ronczka (“Ronczka”) served as the Treasurer for the Campaign Committee, in which capacity she completed the required Campaign Finance Reports (“CFRs”) for the Campaign Committee. Spanik took the Campaign Committee CFRs completed by Ronczka and his candidate Campaign Finance Statements (“CFSs”) to the County Courthouse to be notarized and filed with the County Elections Bureau.
From January 2012 through December 2015, Spanik utilized County employees or representatives within the County Courthouse to notarize a minimum of eighteen of the Campaign Committee CFRs and eighteen of his candidate CFSs. The County employees and representatives did not charge Spanik a fee for their notary services. Under the Pennsylvania Notary Public Fee Schedule, the fee that a licensed notary may charge for executing an affidavit is currently $5.00. The parties have stipulated that the value of the free notary services received by Spanik was approximately $180.00, based upon a fee of $5.00 for each CFR and CFS notarized.
Note: The entire 30-page final adjudication document can be downloaded from the Beaver Countian here. It includes facts not found in the summary for charges the Commission agreed to not pursue in exchange for Spanik’s other admissions of guilt.