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Problems With the Truth: Confessions of a 22-Year Rick Santorum Observer

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

I’ve known Rick Santorum for 22 years, having first met him in 1990 before he’d won his first campaign for Congress. I interviewed him on WORD-FM, an evangelical Christian radio station where I was a frequent guest host (and eventually a full-time host) early in his campaign.

If I was not the first media personality to interview Rick, I was one of the first. I had Rick as a guest at the request of my friend, Mark Rogers, who was running Rick’s campaign. Over the years I interviewed Rick at least a dozen times and debated him several times as well. I personally knew most of his staff, almost hired one member of his staff as the research director of a think tank I ran, and eventually did hire another of his staff members as my administrative assistant.
As I mentioned before, I was friends with the man who ran his first campaign and who ended up being Rick’s chief of staff when Rick was in Congress. I was best man at the marriage of a Santorum staff member and one of my closest friends. This couple may well be my wife’s and my closest friends. I’ve had dealings on more than one occasion with a media/public relations firm run by John Brabender, who has done most of Rick’s media campaign work.
In addition to this, I’ve interviewed Karen Santorum twice, once on radio and once in person on Cornerstone Television. In short, I would say that I know Rick well through direct interaction and through his staff, in support of, and then in opposition in the form of a series of public debates about a tax increase which Rick was inexplicably pushing on the confused people of Western Pennsylvania. As a conservative radio talk show host in Rick’s ‘home’ town; I found myself defending him on many occasions, less and less enthusiastically as Rick managed to alienate the citizens of Pennsylvania by wider and wider margins.
I haven’t written any articles about Santorum’s presidential bid, until now. He was no longer my business. And I resisted the urge this election season to tell fellow Republicans around the United States about Rick, because I figured they would find out soon enough, and because I had several businesses to run and did not need the distraction.
And then Rick made himself my business. On Sunday, Santorum lashed out at my friend and colleague Terry Madonna. Terry is a highly regarded political pollster and host of a show which is produced by Newsmakers LeadershipGroup, a firm which I founded and chair, and that is run by my wife. Santorum was asked by Fox News about a recent report which came out of Dr. Madonna’s polling firm, which showed that Santorum’s lead in Pennsylvania had shrunk to only 2 points.
When my son, Christopher, who is the producer of Terry’s show, read the quote to me I blurted out this statement, “Rick makes things up.” The more I thought about it, the more clear it was to me that Santorum’s main problem (and there are many) is as simple as that: he does not tell the truth. He makes things up as he goes along, assuming no one will check. When the people of Pennsylvania figured that out, they were done with him and fired him as their Senator, and Rick even lied about that.
The first big lie Santorum ever told me was in 1997. Santorum was one of the leaders of a group that was pushing for a regional tax hike which would be used to fund a large stimulus program. The plan was called the Regional Renaissance Initiative and it was chaired by a business executive who, along with his wife, was also one of Santorum’s earliest and largest financial contributors.
The plan was to create a multi-government authority which would take the new tax money and use it to attract state and federal tax money in various matching programs. The chief projects were a tax funded baseball park, football stadium and convention center. The main political sponsor wasPittsburgh‘s Democratic mayor, Tom Murphy. The main business sponsor was the Allegheny Conference, a group representing large corporations which had a history of support for tax hikes, urban renewal and various other government-centered development projects.
I debated Santorum several times on TV and in person on this topic. He, and his team, asserted the typical Keynesian arguments about public works projects. They trotted out studies from local groups which used Keynesian multiplier models to argue that this government spending would more than pay for itself in economic development. They argued, much like the supporters of Obama’s government stimulus programs do, that this spending program would be a jobs generator.
Santorum added some odd cultural arguments, claiming that a tax-funded stadium would be ‘like an old-fashioned Amish barn raising’. I led the opposition to the plan, arguing that whatever alleged multipliers Rick and his allies could reasonably suggest would flow in a positive way from the spending, they would be more than offset by the negative multipliers of the tax hikes, and that barn raisings, unlike taxes, were voluntary.
Rick’s most frequent claim was that there was, and could not possibly be any Plan B; that if we voted down this tax hike, no new stadiums could be constructed and the Pirates and the Steelers would leave Pittsburgh. I remember one particular televised debate on a show which I hosted, called Pennsylvania Newsmakers, in which Santorum wagged his finger in my face and shouted that he had looked into the matter and that I should look into the matter and that if we voted this down, we would lose the franchises. Now much of the U.S.  is familiar with the famous Santorum finger wagging bravado, but it took me by surprise that a man who claimed to be some kind of principled conservative had suddenly become a champion of a Keynesian tax hike government stimulus program, and was angry at me for not joining him.
Well, when the dust settled the tax hike was defeated in all 11 counties. Despite Rick’s best efforts (he actually had gone door to door with Mayor Murphy promoting the program) the initiative was completely repudiated. Not long after that I was summoned to Rick’s office for an alleged reconciliation meeting, where I was lectured about how he really was a true conservative and that people like me should not be ‘sore winners’ and should line up in support of him again. I offered to work with him to find private ways of funding the stadium projects, but he did not accept that offer. Instead, he and his team worked behind the scenes to do what they said they would not do: Go ahead and use tax dollars to fund the stadiums anyway.
Not long after denying even the possibility of the existence of a Plan B, they unveiled one which was almost completely dependent on government funding. After a massive lobbying effort, they succeeded in getting the bills through the State Legislature. Rick dutifully provided federal tax support, most conspicuously including a half a billion dollars for a tunnel connecting downtown with the stadium complex despite the existence of four bridges nearby. Of course, it didn’t work, and a few years later the city of Pittsburgh entered the municipal equivalent of bankruptcy and Mayor Murphy retired in disgrace.
Rick never acknowledged the error of his oft-made guarantees that voting down the tax would mean the inevitable loss of the teams, nor of his broken promises to abide by the will of the people. Nor has he addressed the tension between his claims to be a Tea Party kind of a guy and his arrogant dismissal of anti-tax activists who opposed the massively funded campaign in David vs. Goliath fashion. Nor has he explained to the conservative base of his party how he supported a plan which involved numerous high-profile takings of private property under the guise of eminent domain for the purpose of private economic development projects.
The second big lie Santorum told was about where he lived. Santorum ran against Doug Walgren to represent the 18th Congressional District in 1990. The centerpiece of Rick’s campaign was the issue of residency. Walgren lived near Washington, not in his home district. Santorum argued not only that Walgren himself had gotten ‘out of touch’ with the district, but that living away from the district one represents inherently made one out of touch. This point was made repeatedly in public speeches, debates, mailings and media interviews, including the ones that Rick did with me.
Abortion was not a big issue with Rick at that time. In fact, the first time I interviewed him, I tried to turn the conversation towards what I believed was pro-life common ground. He interrupted and said that wasn’t what he was there to talk about and redirected the conversation back to his chosen themes. Rick had only recently become pro-life, and had only recently come back to the Catholic Church from which he had drifted away. This is not to say that Rick’s views on faith and life issues are not genuine now, only that Rick goes through phases in which he is ‘all in’ with a particular message, then moves on to another one in which he is ‘all in’; never acknowledging the shifts. Rick in 1990 was ‘all in’ on the residency issue.
That’s why so many of us who had been Santorum supporters were shocked to learn that shortly after he became a U.S. Senator, he quietly moved to Northern Virginia, but covered his tracks by buying a very small house in Penn Hills (a Pittsburgh suburb, not far from where I live), next door to his in-laws. We learned this not from Santorum announcing it, but it sort of dribbled out through various reports. Ultimately it became a very big issue because Rick enrolled his children in a Pennsylvania-based cyber charter school while living in Virginia, but which billed Penn Hills for the tuition.
Rick had pledged to live in the community he represented. He broke that pledge, and hid the breaking of it by buying a small unfurnished house in his home district.
I was a talk show host at the time that the Santorum residency scandal occurred. I can tell you with confidence that the people of the region were overwhelmingly enraged, left, right and center. Rick appeared on my radio show as a guest in the midst of the scandal, and we spoke on and off air about it.
He claimed that he really wanted to live in Pennsylvania and would if he could, but that his responsibilities in the Senate, particularly after he had become Senate majority whip, made that impossible. Of course the problem with his explanation was that after the people of Pennsylvania removed from his back the burden of being Senate majority whip or of being Senate anything, he did not move back to the state that he said he wanted to live in, despite the fact that the law firm he worked for had a large Pittsburgh office.
Instead, he bought a 2 million dollar home in northern Virginia, quietly.  According to the conservative newspaper, the Washington Examiner, he used an unusual form of purchase through a legal trust which did not have his name on it, and which is often used to keep real estate purchases secret. The desire to live in Pennsylvania: Another lie and another deceptive real estate purchase to hide the lie. Rick publicly bought a house he didn’t live in and secretly bought one he did live in.
When the purchase was revealed, Rick even lied about the value of the house, claiming that he, like many Americans, was ‘under water’, except that the The Washington Examiner did the math and found that his house value is higher than his mortgage, which means he is not under water.
I mention the value of Rick’s house not to play class warfare, but because that fact plays a supporting role in another of Rick’s lies. The third big lie Santorum told was about his disabled daughter and his charitable giving. This one is ironic since he did it on the same show in which he lied about Terry Madonna, on Fox News Sunday, hosted by Chris Wallace. Wallace asked Santorum about his personal almsgiving:
WALLACE: One last question on social issues. You say that churches and faith-based organizations have a big role to play in helping the poor, helping people who are disadvantaged.
I want to ask you about the 2010 tax returns because in them, they show that President Obama gave 14 percent of his income to charity. Mitt Romney almost 14 percent. You gave 1.76 percent.
Why so little, sir?
SANTORUM: Well, I mean, we always need to do better. I was in the situation where we have seven children and one disabled child who we take care of and she’s very, very expensive. We love her and we cherish the opportunity to take care of her. But she’s — it’s an additional expense and we have round the clock care for it and our insurance company doesn’t cover it, so I pay for it. And you know, that’s one of the things that, you know, you have to balance the needs of your immediate family.
And if you look back in the previous years, we did donate more. And it’s an area that I need to do better and will do better.
WALLACE: Actually, we looked at your charitable returns, I think since 2007. And in every case, it was around 2 percent. You talked about –
SANTORUM: Well, it was 3 percent or 4 percent in some cases, but that’s OK. Again, we were dealing — we are dealing with a situation in our own family. I have seven children. During those four years, we had our little girl, and it was — it’s very costly. She is very costly.
Again, I’m not making excuse except for the fact that, you know, every families go through periods of times where they have to donate — dedicate resources to the problems they have in their own family and taking care of people.
So, when confronted with an extremely low charitable giving record, Santorum blames the size of his family and the health problems of his youngest daughter, except that his return for 2007, before his daughter was born, is no better than the others. Rick gave 1.97 percent of his income to charity that year according to his tax return. So the claim that he gave so little because of the need for an around-the-clock nurse was a lie. And an interesting side note on his contributions is that of his $13,000 dollars in contributions, $4,000 were for donations to Goodwill, which leaves only $9,000 dollars in cash contributions which comes to a measly 1.36 percent in charitable giving.
That is a strangely high deduction for giving clothes to Goodwill. I also have seven children and we give all our old stuff away to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but have never had a charitable deduction for more than a thousand dollars from that. Any thrift store shopper, and the Bowyers are thrift store shoppers, knows that the market value of second hand clothes is extremely low. Is that deduction another lie, or did the Santorums really give away, say 400 articles of clothing at a value of roughly 10 dollars each?
I’m all for people being rich and living in big two million dollar houses, but I’m not all for people who live in a house which is almost ten times the national average value saying they are too poor to give away a significant portion of their income. This is especially hard to take from someone who wears his religion so prominently on his sleeve, announcing in one of his speeches that we ‘need a Jesus candidate’ with reference to his own candidacy. The Scriptures which Santorum purports to believe tell us that almsgiving in particular (not public acts of piety, nor references to God in political speeches, nor stances on issues) are the test of the genuineness of faith.
From James chapter 2:
“14What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?
15And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food:
16And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?
17So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.”
How could a candidate who believes that it is his role as a candidate to lecture American couples on the evils of contraception, not reasonably have expected that we would take an interest in his family’s finances?
The fourth big lie that Santorum told was about my friend and colleague Terry Madonna. When Chris Wallace confronted Santorum with a poll from Franklin and Marshall College where Dr. Madonna is part of a polling operation, and that showed the race getting rather tight in Rick’s ‘home’ state, Santorum tried to shoot the messenger:
“First off, the Democratic hack that does that, Terry Madonna, has probably singularly gotten more polls wrong than any person I know in the history of the state,” Santorum said Sunday. “There are two other polls that are out this week that have us up 20 and I think the other is 17. This is a pollster who just — I think he just draws numbers out of a hat sometimes. We feel very good about Pennsylvania. We’re going to do exceptionally well there.” defines a “hack” as:
“a professional who renounces or surrenders individual independence, integrity, belief, etc., in return for money or other reward in the performance of a task normally thought of as involving a strong personal commitment: a political hack.”
By that definition or by any other reasonable definition, Terry is not a hack. In fact, Terry has never done polling for either political party or for any campaign. In fact, he doesn’t take consulting fees from any party or candidate, and despite frequent invitations, does not speak at political events; the sole exception gatherings of student groups.
He has a detailed polling methodology which can be found here, which is far from pulling numbers out of a hat. As for the accuracy of his polls, he had Santorum winning in 1994 and in 2000, and losing in 2006 – right on target. His polling firm also predicted the Republican sweep in 2010. If Rick has some study with which to support his contention that Madonna’s polling is worse than any other polls that Rick knows in the history of the state, then he should step up and release them rather than attacking the professional integrity and reputation of someone just because he doesn’t like the results.
I’ve known Terry Madonna for almost as long as I’ve known Rick. I’ve interviewed Terry literally hundreds of times on the radio. When I decided to stop hosting our state’s premiere political TV show, Pennsylvania Newsmakers, I chose Terry as my successor. Terry is a moderate in ideology. He is about as fair-minded as any commentator I’ve seen in this state. Terry is a kind of Keystone Larry Sabato, who does not take sides. In fact, Pennsylvania’s most conservative newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, owned by the conservative philanthropist Richard Scaife, uses Terry for its state-level polling. Is a Scaife paper a Democratic hack?
The fact is that Madonna’s poll showed slightly earlier what the Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst polls have shown since, that the race is getting uncomfortably close in the state that knows Rick best.
In fact, as I sit here early in the morning writing this article, I just got a fund raising letter signed by Nadine Maenza, Finance Director for Rick Santorum For President. Apparently Rick’s finance director wants me and everyone else on their blast list to know that “our next battle is in Pennsylvania. The latest poll shows us up by 6 but Romney is already spending millions in Rick’s home state.” In other words, the race is narrowing and Pennsylvania is in play, so time to take out the checkbooks.
In fact, the Santorum fundraising letter motivates the giver by citing a poll which has Santorum up by 6 while Madonna’s poll has him up by 2; the two polls are within each other’s margins of error. So, message to national media: I’m going to win big in PA, anybody who questions that is a hack. Message to donor, things are getting tight in PA, need help, send money now.
Seems like the only problem Rick really has with Terry is that he published his results in the newspaper rather than in a Santorum fundraising letter.
The reason I, a conservative of conservatives, chose Terry to offer political analysis to my radio audience every week for years, and the reason that I chose him to host the TV program which I founded, is that he is a fair and truthful man, whose ambition does not run to being a national political figure like so many other pundit wannabes, but instead to being the best state level political analyst in the state he chooses to live in and serve. In other words, I trusted Terry because he is everything Rick is not.
Mr. Bowyer is the author of "The Free Market Capitalists Survival Guide," published by HarperCollins, and a columnist for

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