As a judge set bail Friday for 10 defendants connected to the state House Republican caucus, political observers said the latest charges provide partisan balance to Attorney General Tom Corbett's ongoing corruption probe that should work to his advantage as he campaigns for governor.
The allegations that the GOP defendants illegally spent millions of taxpayer dollars to influence the outcome of legislative campaigns should silence critics who have accused Corbett of waging a partisan witch hunt since he filed similar charges against people tied to the House Democratic caucus 16 months ago.
Corbett, a Republican, is seeking his party's nomination in next year's election.
"It blows that argument out of the water," said Christopher Borick, a professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown who asserts that the 456-count grand jury presentment Corbett announced Thursday "gives him bona-fides as a reformer."
The defendants were fingerprinted and photographed at a police department just outside Harrisburg on Friday, and brought before a district judge for preliminary arraignments and bail hearings. All 10 pleaded not guilty.
Linglestown District Judge William Wenner set bail at $100,000 for the three defendants facing the most counts: Philadelphia state Rep. John Perzel, a former speaker of the House; Brett Feese, a former state representative from the Williamsport area who resigned earlier this month as the House GOP's top lawyer; and Brian Preski, a Philadelphia lawyer who is Perzel's former chief of staff.
The others were given lesser amounts, ranging from $1,000 to $50,000, of unsecured bail. They were ordered to relinquish any passports and agree not to talk to anyone mentioned in the 188-page grand jury report that had been issued Thursday.
A preliminary hearing to see if there is enough evidence for a full trial will probably take place in January or February, lawyers said. Trials for people connected to the House Democratic caucus who were charged in a parallel case are expected to occur in December and January.
Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo contributed to this report.