On March 11, State Senators Tommy Tomlinson and Andy Dinniman unveiled their PASSHE secession legislation. In the 14 university Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Senate Bill 1275 will allow the small group of PASSHE “makers” – the schools who are strong financially – to secede from the PASSHE “takers” – the schools facing deep cuts, faculty layoffs, and program elimination due to actual or perceived budget shortfalls. At least that’s the Ayn Rand fantasy narrative that the bill’s sponsors seem to want to sell.
Less than a day after Tomlinson and Dinniman proposed this bill, Raging Chicken Press uncovered that the Bravo Group – a powerful player in the privatization of public resources in PA – is executing the messaging for this bill including the accompanying social media campaign. Then a couple days later, Bill Schackner from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that it was the West Chester University Council of Trustees who instructed the university’s foundation to hire the powerful lobbying group. West Chester University’s foundation is bankrolling a significant part of the PASSHE secession public relations campaign.
This article will help establish a historical record and explore the relationships between a select group of trustee members and the State System of Higher Education, Harrisburg politicians, and the two senators themselves. This is not to say that I have evidence, at this point, that the money trail will influence the outcome of this bill; but, I will use campaign contributions from trustee members to the two legislators as precedent that establishes a network of relationships.
State Senator Tomlinson is a West Chester graduate and a university trustee and he has received contributions from other trustees, or the business they operate, since the early 2000’s. Senator Dinniman was a professor at West Chester University for 30 years and he has received donations from trustees and/or their businesses dating back to 2008, when Dinniman was elected. The article will break down into three sections; trustees who have a career in the public sector, trustees who are local business owners, and trustees who sit on West Chester University’s Foundation.
Trustees with Public Service Background
The first group of WCU trustees have a diverse public sector background; they include a local judge, a former PASSHE executive and an experienced staffer working for Senate President Dominic Pileggi. None of these government employees contributed to the senators for obvious reasons.
First on this list is Barry Dozer. Dozer is a Haverford native and a West Chester University graduate. His biography reads:
Judge Barry C. Dozor was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas by Governor Tom Ridge and swore his oath of judicial office on December 13, 2001. Judge Dozor was then elected for a full judicial term that began on January 5, 2004. On November 5, 2013 Judge Dozor was retained for an additional judicial term of 10 years. Judge Dozor is a lifelong resident of Delaware County, a graduate of Haverford High School, West Chester University (B.A.) and the Widener University School of Law (J.D.). Judge Dozor has attended and was awarded a Certificate from the National Judicial College and participates in many academic and professional forums.
Then there is former PASSHE vice chancellor Peter Garland. When former chancellor John Cavanaugh went onto greener pastures, Dr. Garland filled in as the interim chancellor until Frank Brogan was hired. His biography reads:
Dr. Peter H. Garland serves as executive vice chancellor, a position to which he was appointed in October 2006. In that role, he serves as PASSHE’s chief operating officer, overseeing the major functional areas in the Office of the Chancellor; serving as liaison to university presidents and the System’s Board of Governors; leading major System-wide projects, programs and initiatives; and coordinating the work of vice chancellors and other executive staff. Dr. Garland served as PASSHE’s acting Chancellor from March 1 to September 30, 2013.
Finally, there is Christine Costello who has been working in Senator Dominic Pileggi’s office for the last 7 years. Costello, who is a West Chester graduate, is Dominic Pileggi’s finance director and has been working with him since 2007. In 2011 when Dominic Pileggi was considering a senate run against Bob Casey, Politics PA reported that Pileggi hired Costello as a fundraiser.
Trustees Who are Local Business Owners or Executives
The next group of trustees are local business owners or executives who have donated to either senators. They include a democratic candidate running for state house and a couple of local business owners. Marian Moskowitz is owned several small businesses in Chester County and is the Democratic Party challenger to State Representative Warren Kampf (R) in the 157th District. According to Philly.com, Moskowitz is running on job creation, women’s issues, and restoring education spending. According to campaign reports, Moskowitz and her husband have contributed $6,000 to Dinniman since 2008.
The first business owner is Eli Silberman. Silberman made his fortunes in the advertising industry and started a successful advertising firm in 1988. Silberman attended the March 11 press conference and has contributed $2,300 to Senator Dinniman. At the press conference, Silberman was standing with secession supporters, and later on that day Silberman told the Philadelphia Inquirer why he supported secession. Naturally, his statement echoed the makers and takers argument established at the March 11 launch of SB 1275. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
Silberman said the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which oversees the 14 state schools, with 112,300 students, this year took $1.6 million away from financially healthy West Chester to help struggling schools.
“That got us serious about this possibility,” Silberman said.
The next business owner is Jonathan Ireland, who is the president of the VFIM Corporation. Ireland enjoys throwing his coffers onto the laps of republican candidates. During the 2012 election cycle, Ireland spent $65,370 on Republican candidates, $45,000 of which went to Mr. 47%’s presidential campaign. When it comes to donating to the two senators, Ireland has only contributed $2,000 to Senator Tomlinson.
In 2008, Ireland’s company, which managed a half billion in Commonwealth assets and makes millions for those services, came under scrutiny when his company was caught hedging their bets for the state treasurer’s race. His company is associated with donating tens of thousands of dollars to political action campaigns who then contributed to Rob McCord’s and Tom Ellis’ campaigns. The Pocono Record reported:
Ireland and McElwee also contributed at least $95,000 combined in their own names to two political action committees that have made substantial donations to McCord and Ellis.
The two businessmen each gave $22,500 to the Pennsylvania Future Fund, a political action committee on whose board Ellis sits and which contributed more than $80,000 to his campaign.
And continued with:
McCord knows the men from the investment world and charity work and knew they were involved with the hotel ventures that donated to his campaign, spokesman Mark Nevins said.
Ireland and McElwee donated a combined $50,000 to the Keystone Future PAC. It gave $40,000 to McCord’s campaign but the committee’s chairman said that donation was unrelated to the money given by the two businessmen.
Trustees on WCU Foundation Board
The final group of trustees are those who sit on the board of West Chester University’s Foundation. As mentioned above, Bill Shackner reported that money from the university’s non-profit foundation were used to hire the Bravo Group and lobby for secession. These two trustees include Thomas Filippo, a local business owner, and Chris Franklin, the Executive VP at Aqua America.
According to Market Watch, Thomas Fillippo is an independent director at DNB Financial Corp and president and CEO of Devault Foods. In April 2013, Fillippo was honored by the Chester County Economic Development Council for his decades long dedication to the local community. When it comes to allowing schools to secede from PASSHE, Fillippo believes that state universities need to start looking at a new entrepreneurial model. He states:
Looking ahead, our region continues to grow rapidly and students and employers require us to adopt a more entrepreneurial operational model that is responsive to quickly emerging needs and opportunities,” Fillippo said in a statement. “This bill recognizes that the time has arrived for state universities to embrace a new organizational approach in order to remain relevant and maximize their potential for serving the Commonwealth.”
According to our campaign finance data, Fillippo had donated $1,200 to Senator Tomlison, and his company, DNB Financial, has donated $3,500 to Senator Dinniman.
This leaves us with Chris Franklin, the Executive Vice-President at Aqua America. According to our reports, Aqua America – or those associated with Aqua – has given Senator Tomlinson $13,250 since 2004 and has given Senator Dinniman $2,500 since 2008. Raging Chicken Press editor Kevin Mahoney dives into Franklin’s career at Aqua America, ppointing out that Franklin sits on the PASSHE Board of Governors. After citing Franklin’s pro-secession rhetoric, Mahoney writes:
It would be notable by itself that Chris Franklin was being so public in his advocacy given his positions at WCU and on the PASSHE Board of Governors. His role in West Chester University’s Foundation opens a whole series of questions about his influence.
Throughout their senate careers, Senators Tomlinson and Dinniman have received over $30,000 from current West Chester Council of Trustees. The money that they have received may not influence the outcome of this legislation, but it certainly looks shady when the two senators doing the dirty work for the Council of Trustees. It was the Council of Trustees who paid for the lobbying and public relation services and, as the Raging Chicken Press reported, it was Tommy Tomlinson who was whipping faculty and administration to support this legislation, and it was both senators taking their show to the West Chester community.
it was he Raging Chicken Press has reported that Senator Tomlinson was the trustee member trying to convince faculty and administration to support this bill