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Top Pa. lobbyist’s influence in Capitol grows


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 1, 2021
Close ties, vaccine news, infrastructure plan, rural blindspot, locked out, hometown snub, and a PA Post poet. It's Thursday, April 1 — no fooling.
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Former employees of a Harrisburg lobbyist are now working for the state Senate’s Republican majority, further closing the lobbyist-government loop and piquing concerns about the level of influence the "cozy" arrangement might afford, Spotlight PA and The Caucus report. 

Here are the key players: 

  • Ray Zaborney, leader of Red Maverick Media, whose companies help elect public officials and then lobby them once they're in office
  • Cody Harbaugh, a one-time Red Maverick strategist, who was hired as executive director of the influential Senate Republican Campaign Committee (SRCC) this year
  • Jake Corman, a Centre County lawmaker and president pro tempore of the state Senate, who is Red Maverick's marquee client and whose chief of staff is also a former Zaborney associate
“It’s cozy. It’s integrated,” Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said of the dynamic. 

Zaborney rejects any notion that having former employees in key policy and fundraising positions would give his businesses or clients an advantage. But the moves have raised concerns about whether Zaborney and his firms are gaining outsize influence with Republicans now in control of both chambers and the state's legislative agenda. 

THE CONTEXT: The Senate’s top leaders, Corman among them, and the SRCC’s executive director — that's Cody Harbaugh — get to decide which campaigns to spend SRCC money on and how much each will receive.

Any concerns that Harbaugh's involvement could yield preferential treatment for Zaborney clients was dismissed by state Sen. Dave Argall (R., Schuylkill), who said favoritism does not and will not play a role when deciding which campaigns receive SRCC funding. There will be, he said, “no special treatment at all." 

Zaborney said Harbaugh has cut professional ties with Red Maverick — even though Harbaugh was still listed as an employee on the firm’s website until earlier this week.

At a minimum, though, critics say the close relationships showcase the tangled nexus between politics, policy, and campaign fundraising, perpetuated by the state’s weak lobbying and campaign disclosure rules, and little appetite among the legislative majority to prioritize changes or take up reforms.


“SEPTA was looking at the lot, but Amazon offered more money.”

—Vincent Thompson, spokesperson for Philadelphia Council member Kenyatta Johnson, on derailed plans for a new SEPTA trolley facility
VACCINE UPDATE: All Pennsylvanians 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting April 19, Spotlight PA reports. Two remaining priority groups will go first, with people in Phase 1B eligible starting April 5 and those in Phase 1C starting April 12. (Non-Philly residents can find their grouping here.) Food and agriculture workers, grocery store workers, law enforcement, and firefighters are all eligible now. Philadelphia still plans to open eligibility up to all adults on May 1. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: We can almost smell the fresh air in this shot of Werleys Corner. Thanks, @hurleyhurleySend us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
BIDEN'S BID: We now have the blueprint for President Joe Biden's $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan, which he unveiled in Pittsburgh yesterday and wants to fund, in part, with a corporate tax hike. Included in the bill are sweeping investments and plenty of fodder for Republican critics. But while Biden's plan becomes clearer, USA Today's Capitol Bureau reports Pennsylvania's is as murky as ever amid ongoing tensions in Harrisburg.

'ZERO PROVIDERS': Residents of rural McKean County say a state policy shift that favors large COVID-19 vaccine providers over smaller ones has left them in the lurch. “Currently we have zero first-dose providers in the county,” Kane Mayor Brandon “Brandy” Schimp told the Post-Gazette. “There’s this sense that Harrisburg doesn’t know who we are. Perhaps it was an oversight, but it’s an oversight that could cost lives.”

CIVIL SUIT: Lawyers for the family of a 19-year-old fatally shot by state police during a mental health crisis are taking issue with an inquiry that returned no charges against the troopers involved. Attorney Devon Jacob assailed the probe into December's fatal shooting of Christian Hall near Stroudsburg, challenging official disclosures, statements, motives, and accounts, all while promising a federal lawsuit, the Pocono Record reports.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT: The saga continues for residents of North Philadelphia's Moscow & Monica Apartments, who in the last month have been robbed of payments, locked out by an angry landlord, ordered to return by a court, and now locked out again. The Inquirer says some tenants used screwdrivers to re-enter their homes, while landlord Gagandeep Lakhmna apparently lounged on a large yacht in the Caribbean.

NO VOTE: John Fetterman's U.S. Senate bid won't get the blessing of his mayoral successor in Braddock. Mayor Chardae Jones has instead endorsed Fetterman's Democratic primary opponent, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, saying he's been more accessible, per WESA. Jones says Braddock's progress slowed after Fetterman became lieutenant governor, despite him vowing that he wouldn't let that happen.

HOUSING HELP: A year-old ban on utility shutoffs in Pennsylvania lifts today. There are new payment plan options in place to protect customers who've fallen behind. There is also financial assistance available to help them get caught up. It's a longish raft of options. WHYY has an easy-to-understand breakdown here.

OPEN BAR: Restaurants, bars, beer distributors, and more could be let in on the ready-to-drink cocktail action in Pennsylvania, a market currently cornered by the PLCB, under a new Republican-proffered bill. But The Center Square reports some worry the cocktail umbrella, so to speak, is too large and creates an "uneven playing field."

CITY COWBOYS: An estimated 1 in 4 American cowboys was Black, but that history has been whitewashed in Hollywood. "They have not been glorified and they have not been romanticized in film," Lorraine Toussaint — one of the stars of the new Philadelphia-set Netflix drama "Concrete Cowboys" — told The Root. Learn more about the real Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club and its uncertain future

TEE PAIN: Just in time for the regular season, a Pittsburgh clothing company has launched a Pirates-inspired line emblazoned with the word “PAIN” in the Pirates’ signature font and color scheme, City Paper reports. "Wearing this means you understand it isn’t going to be fun for the next few years," the company wrote. "Spend Nutting, Win Nutting" indeed.

POST POET: Yesterday we asked for your nature haiku, and reader Art W. came through with two: Seasons one by one. The same Park trail I cherish. Both same and brand new. // PA Parks are now. A vision of our state’s past. How it all once was.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Watermelon

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Becky C., Elizabeth F., Dixie S., Susan D., Dennis M., Al M., Kim C., Patty D., Lydia T., Irene R., Elaine C., Myles M., Jessica K., Mary Ellen T., Dianne K., David W., Carol D., George S., Tom M., James B., Heidi B., Karen W., Cynthia P., Joel S., Laura B., Kevin H., Kerri G., Bob R., Marsha B., Lex M., Bill C., and Elizabeth W.
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