With A Little Help From His Friends

“In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might find they don't both need to.”

-- U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, in his 2005 book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good

* * *

The estates at Shenstone Farm sprawl over 500 acres of steeply rolling, barren hillside, at the point where northern Virginia's traffic-clogged suburbs finally surrender to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On an unseasonably warm January day, this former horse farm is shrouded in fog so dense that a visitor could imagine a band of gray-clad rebel soldiers emerging from these hilltops in the heart of Civil War country.

Instead, what slowly takes shape from the gloaming are well over 100 McMansions, with more on the way -- massive brick structures jutting out like solitary fortresses, each surrounded by roughly four acres of treeless, lunar-like landscape, with three-car garages and sconce-topped brick monument pillars at the foot of each long driveway. Most sport pricey wood playsets in the backyard.

It is here, some 43 miles by car and a world away from Capitol Hill, that Pennsylvania's junior U.S. senator, Rick Santorum, and his wife, Karen, bought a home on November 14, 2001, for $643,361 (now assessed by Loudoun County at $757,000). It is here that the most outspoken social conservative in the Senate is raising his six children in the manner he described in his book last year, which caused so much controversy back in the state where he is seeking a third term this fall. And it is here that Santorum departs most mornings for his newest mission: crafting a package of Senate ethics reforms aimed at removing the stain of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.


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The Santorums bought their oversized Shenstone “estate” even though his financial disclosure forms since 2001 have shown little family income beyond his Senate salary, now $162,100, and he admits that life hasn't been financially easy. The senator made a startling remark to The New York Times Magazine last spring: “We live paycheck to paycheck, absolutely.” But he explained that his parents help out. “They're by no means wealthy -- they're two retired VA [Veterans Administration] employees -- but they'll send a check every now and then,” he said.

The Prospect decided to heed Santorum's advice by taking “an honest look at the family budget” -- his family budget. What we found is that Santorum's exurban lifestyle is financed in ways that aren't available to the average voter back home in Pennsylvania -- namely a political action committee that lists payments for such unorthodox items as dozens of trips to the Starbucks in Leesburg, a number of stops at fast-food joints, and purchases at Target, Wal-Mart, and a Giant supermarket in northern Virginia. Although a Santorum aide defends those charges as legitimate political costs, good-government experts say the expenditures are at best unconventional, and at worst a possible violation of Senate rules, and the purchases appear to be unorthodox when compared with other senators' filings. Santorum's PAC -- a “leadership PAC,” whose purpose is to dispense money to other Republican candidates -- used just 18.1 percent of its money to that end over a recent five-year period, a lower number than other leadership PACs of top senators from both parties.

These facts may well raise questions in Pennsylvanians' minds about how the senator is conducting their business in Washington. But it is Santorum's Virginia home that raises the hardest questions for the third-ranking Senate Republican.

* * *

Initially, according to Loudoun County property records, the purchase was financed with a $405,000 mortgage from a conventional lender, Westminster Mortgage Company. But a year later, the couple refinanced for $500,000. That was not unusual in the fall of 2002, when many homeowners were refinancing to take advantage of plunging interest rates, while also cashing in on the rising equity in their homes. What was curious was the source of the increased mortgage. It was a new private bank catering to “affluent investors and institutions” -- whose officers have contributed $24,000 to Santorum's political action committees and re-election campaign -- called Philadelphia Trust Company.

Rick and Karen Santorum do not appear to fit the profile of customers to whom the financial institution would normally issue a loan of any kind. According to information currently posted on Philadelphia Trust's Web site, banking services “are offered at no additional charge to our clients” and “are available only to investment advisory clients whose portfolios we manage, oversee or administer. Interest rates on loans and deposits are competitive. Loan payments will be customized to match each client's specific needs. Approved loans will be collateralized by your investment portfolio.”

Santorum's financial disclosure forms filed with the clerk of the Senate show that he has never maintained an investment portfolio with Philadelphia Trust. For that matter, the senator would hardly fit the profile of the “affluent investor” that the Philadelphia bank seeks -- namely, people with investment assets of at least $250,000. On his 2002 disclosure form, Santorum listed liquid assets, primarily retirement accounts and life insurance, in a range no greater than $140,000.

Santorum's campaign refused to disclose any specific information about the loan, and neither would officials from Philadelphia Trust. Bank Chairman George Marlin claimed that discussing any customer's transaction would violate not only banking privacy laws but also, curiously, the USA PATRIOT Act. A bank director, Karen Iacovelli, who has a background in public relations, also refused to answer any questions in detail. Asked whether Philadelphia Trust does any loan business with non-investment clients, she said, “Yes and no -- it's a judgment call.” Michael Crofton, the ceo of Philadelphia Trust, did not return three phone messages.

Neither Santorum nor the bank would disclose the exact interest rate, although a campaign aide called it “market-driven.” Nor would either side say whether the Santorums have paid any fees or points, although Philadelphia Trust's Web site also states that “[t]here are no fees or points on loan transactions.” The 12-page deed on file in the Loudoun County courthouse does not provide much information about the loan, although it does state that the term is just five years, with repayment of the $500,000 due by November 1, 2007. That would be 11 months after the end of Santorum's current six-year Senate term.

Founded in late 1998, Philadelphia Trust is a small institution led by financiers who are clearly friendly to Santorum. CEO Crofton has been a significant political supporter of the senator. He and his wife Margaret have given $8,500 to America's Foundation, a leadership PAC controlled by Santorum, and another $4,500 to the senator's campaign fund. Altogether, executives and directors of Philadelphia Trust have donated $24,000 to the two committees. Among those donors is Marlin -- a former Conservative Party candidate for mayor of New York City.

Philadelphia Trust has not been immune to political controversy. About two years ago, federal prosecutors sought records of the trust's dealings with the city of Philadelphia as part of a sweeping municipal corruption probe. Coming under scrutiny by law enforcement was a former Philadelphia Trust managing director, Robert Feldman, a Democratic fund-raiser for Mayor John Street, former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey -- and state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., Santorum's likely 2006 election foe. Neither Feldman nor Philadelphia Trust was ever charged with a crime. At the time, the bank managed more than $500 million in Pennsylvania state funds and a smaller amount of Philadelphia city pension-fund assets.

While bank executives and directors have donated to Santorum's campaign or his political fund since the firm's founding in late 1998, and Crofton is the chairman of a charity run by Santorum, there is no evidence that the senator -- who sits on the Senate Banking Committee -- took any official actions on its behalf.

But government ethics experts said that even if Santorum didn't take any action on Philadelphia Trust's behalf, the mortgage deal carries the appearance of special treatment, which would violate the Senate ethics rules that Santorum is now charged with reforming. “Anytime he gets something that a regular person couldn't get, that's an improper gift,” says Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Sloan said the senator's unconventional mortgage is the latest in a series of actions -- including his role in the so-called K Street Project to place Republicans in lucrative lobbying jobs -- that show “he's seriously ethically challenged.”

To test whether Santorum may have gotten a favor, the Prospect called Philadelphia Trust to inquire about obtaining an individual mortgage, and reached a bank employee who identified herself as Barbara Todd. “We don't have, per se, mortgages only -- we're an investment company,” she explained. Asked further about whether the bank makes loans, she said: “We do, once you're a client on the investment side of the business.”

“Not to the general public, only to investment clients?”

“Correct.”

A spokeswoman for the Santorum campaign, Virginia Davis, responded by e-mail to a series of written questions about the loan without fully answering them. “Senator Santorum and his wife, who is an attorney and a nurse, applied for the [Philadelphia Trust] mortgage using the standard application process that Americans must go through when applying for a mortgage and received a market-driven rate for their second home in the Washington, D.C., area to house them and their six children when the Senate is in session,” she wrote.

* * *

When Santorum first ran against incumbent House Democrat Doug Walgren in 1990, he released an attack ad that drew the attention of Roll Call, the Capitol Hill weekly: “Strange music plays while a picture of an attractive white house is shown. The announcer says, ‘There's something strange about this house.' The reason is because Walgren lives in McLean, which is ‘the wealthiest area of Virginia' rather than his suburban district. ‘Maybe that's why he voted for a pay raise seven times,' the announcer argues.”

But in 1995, just after winning election to the Senate (and thus five years before he would have to face Pennsylvania voters again), the couple purchased a $292,000 house in Herndon, Virginia. “I made the pledge that I would live in my district as a congressman, and I did,” Santorum said at the time. “The Senate is a very different place from the House.” For two years he didn't even own a home in Pennsylvania, but in 1997 bought a small house in Penn Hills -- in the Pittsburgh area, next door to his wife's parents -- for $87,800.

Around the same time that the couple became Virginia homeowners, Karen Santorum entered into an unusual working arrangement with the Pittsburgh political consulting firm that has provided all of her husband's media work. From 1995 through 1998, Brabender Cox -- the company that handled nearly $10 million in media buys for his two Senate campaigns -- paid a retainer to the senator's wife. John Brabender, a firm principal who is godfather to one of the couple's children, told reporters that he paid her roughly $4,000 a month for “client development,” although the exact amount was never disclosed.

Karen Santorum has earned other income since she began raising and homeschooling the couple's children. She has authored two books: Everyday Graces: A Child's Book of Good Manners, published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative think tank based in Delaware, and Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum, the couple's still-born baby, published by CCC of America. She received a $10,000 advance in 2002 for the second book. Santorum reportedly received $20,000 in advances for It Takes a Family.

Meanwhile, the couple's family and financial needs grew. They moved up in the housing market again right after the 2000 election, when Santorum won a second six-year term in the Senate by defeating pro-life, pro-gun western-Pennsylvania Democrat Ron Klink. In 2001, the Santorums sold the Herndon home for $429,000 and bought the newly built house at the Estates at Shenstone Farm in Leesburg for $643,361 on November 14 of that year. The refinancing through Philadelphia Trust happened the next year.

* * *

As Pennsylvania voters know, the senator has endured enormous controversy over his residence in Penn Hills. The Santorums' niece lives in the tiny two-bedroom home -- valued at $106,000 -- that the senator claims as his legal and voting residence. As previously reported, the Penn Hills school district said that it paid more than $67,000 for the cyber-schooling of Santorum's children down in Virginia, until the arrangement was revealed in late 2004. He said he was entitled to the schooling because he pays property taxes there.

But education funded by taxpayers two states away apparently isn't the only perk of membership in the U.S. Senate. According to one expert, Santorum appears to reap personal benefits from America's Foundation, the so-called leadership PAC controlled by Santorum, which has raised some $5 million from wealthy donors and business PACs over the last five years. The stated purpose of America's Foundation is to support other GOP candidates, but the Prospect found that the committee spends considerably less on direct candidate aid than comparable PACs, and considerably more on operating expenses -- declaring hundreds of small- to medium-sized meals and purchases by Santorum or his political staff to be “campaign-related.”

Since the beginning of Santorum's term in 2001, America's Foundation has paid for some 66 trips to Starbucks -- almost all in Santorum's hometown of Leesburg -- and close to 100 small purchases from another Washington area coffee vendor, along with purchases at Arby's, Burger King, Wendy's, Ben and Jerry's, and a vast array of retail and food outlets. Santorum spokeswoman Davis said that every listed expense was related to the PAC's mission, including “routine expenses such as office supplies including furniture, travel for staff, meals, and grocery items for various functions such as fund-raisers and planning meetings.”

However, a comparison to five other senators' leadership PAC expenses shows that those PACs do not list expenditures on items such as convenience stores or coffee shops, with a couple of exceptions for out-of-state travel. Different leadership PACs maintain records differently, but America's Foundation appeared to spend more heavily on credit-card payments, for example, than similar PACs. The $463,378 spent by Santorum's PAC on credit-card payments from 2001 through 2005 constituted 8.6 percent of all cash taken in, while comparable numbers for Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, his partner in the GOP Senate leadership, were $29,524 and 1.6 percent. All this leads experts to say that those expenditures appear highly unusual.

“These are very questionable transactions, given that the donors to this leadership PAC were trying to work on ‘party building,'” says Alex Knott, political director for the Center for Public Integrity, a leading Washington-based good-government group. “They were probably not aware that the funds were being spent at convenience stores and coffee houses.” CREW's Sloan said some charges appear to be for personal use, which would violate Senate ethics rules. “Let them explain why an ice-cream cone at Ben and Jerry's is a campaign expense,” she says.

So-called leadership PACs were originally developed as a way for the ranking members in the House and Senate to build support from new and junior members by giving extra money to their campaigns. Over time, however, even members of Congress who aren't in leadership founded these PACs, and it isn't hard to understand why. On the giving side, leadership PACs are a way for big-money givers inside the Beltway to offer support beyond the current limits, which in the current 2006 cycle are $4,200 for an individual ($2,100 each for the primary and general election) and $10,000 for a PAC. On the spending side, there would seem to be few restrictions except that a leadership PAC can't directly aid the campaign of the politician with which it is connected.

In fact, while America's Foundation has raked in millions from Washington lobbyists and big-business PACs, it has doled out just a fraction of that money on the stated purpose of Santorum's committee, which is supporting other candidates. From the start of 2001 until late 2005, according to its disclosure forms, America's Foundation raised a whopping $5,363,735, but spent just $967,632 on other candidates or political committees -- just 18.1 percent. Santorum spokeswoman Davis maintained that America's Foundation “assisted other candidates running for office to the tune of $3,025,331 since 2001,” although she did not explain how that calculation was reached, and the forms clearly show the smaller number.

Again, Santorum's number compares unfavorably to those of most other senators in leadership positions. For example, Democratic Minority Whip Dick Durbin's figure for the same period was 65 percent. McConnell's was 47.5 percent. House Minority Leader Roy Blunt's was 54 percent. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's was 23.1 percent. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was in Santorum's ballpark, at 20.5 percent, but Santorum was the lowest of all those reviewed.

The bulk of the PAC money was spent on a broad category called “other federal expenditures.” Those costs include direct mailings and fund-raising commissions. A company called Capitol Resources Group -- located in the Philadelphia suburb of West Conshohocken and run by Santorum's finance chief, Rob Bickhart -- has received monthly rent, expenses, and management fees that generally came to $10,000 every month. It also pays regularly for Internet and mobile-phone service. But other expenditures by America's Foundation are less conventional.

The PAC has paid for hundreds of meals over a five-year period. Some of those were at expensive, upscale restaurants like the Capital Grille restaurants in Philadelphia and in Washington, D.C. But what jumps out from the PAC's thousands of pages of reports are all the small meals.

Arby's, the fast-food chain specializing in roast-beef sandwiches, has been a particular favorite. Eleven Arby's meals, totaling $118.25, were charged to the PAC -- eight of them in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, a small town on U.S. 15 south of Harrisburg. The PAC also charged four meals at Burger King, totaling $50.36 -- three of these in Virginia or Maryland. Other meals were charged at fast-food eateries such as Wendy's, Boston Market, Sbarro, and Papa John's pizza.

America's Foundation also paid for numerous pizza and Chinese-food meals in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. For example, on October 16, 2003, the PAC paid for two meals at Giovanni's New York Pizzeria in Leesburg, for $10.53 and $11.34, and it charged several meals at Great Wall Express in Alexandria, Virginia, one for just $5.74. Unsurprisingly, a number of the meals charged to America's Foundation were for larger amounts. For example, a PAC credit-card payment on November 9, 2001, paid for meals of $175.05 at Smith and Wollensky's in Philadelphia as well as $29 at TGI Friday's in Pittsburgh and $6 at the Iron City Saloon.

But the pages of federal records show that no charge was too small for America's Foundation: not the $4.44 it paid to a Sheetz Service Station in Mt. Jackson, Virginia, in July 2002; not the $3.71 it paid at Goodnoe Farms, a popular Bucks County ice cream stop, in May 2004; not the $4.48 at a Ben & Jerry's in August 2002; not the $5.26 at a Wawa convenience store in June 2003; and not the $2.49 at an Auntie Anne's pretzel store in June 2004. On five occasions, charges -- totaling $338.87 -- were made at Giant Foods supermarkets in Leesburg and Burke, Virginia.

The records also display an unusual penchant for coffee. America's Foundation paid 66 times for visits to Starbucks, all but a couple of them at the Leesburg location, which is a popular local hangout on the town's main shopping drag, with a large wood-burning stove in its main lounge area. A Starbucks barista said he has seen Santorum there on a couple of occasions, adding: “We got a lot of celebrities … Oliver North comes here all the time.”

The total Starbucks charges since 2001 come to $558.65. But that is not America's Foundation's favorite coffee stop. Since the current term began, the fund has also paid for 94 visits to coffee shops owned by HMS Host of Bethesda, Maryland -- for a total spending of $380. Other visits to both the Leesburg Starbucks and HMS Host were also paid for by Santorum's 2006 campaign, but in much smaller amounts.

America's Foundation doesn't spend money on just food. Its records show expenditures at an all-star lineup of American retailers. Some of the purchases are at traditional office stores that have become a mainstay of modern political campaigns, like Staples and OfficeMax. A $273.48 charge at the Restoration Hardware store in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, is listed under the previously unknown campaign category of “repairs.”

Other entries for “office supplies” or “PAC fund-raising expenses” include $325.99 at the Target store in Leesburg in September 2005 and $102.28 at a Virginia Wal-Mart in June 2002. These are in addition to charges at Overstock.com; K-Mart; CVS and Duane Reade drug stores; Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton bookstores; and a RadioShack and Circuit City in northern Virginia. The PAC office expenses were incurred even though America's Foundation lists its official address at someone else's office: the Washington headquarters of a major lobbying firm, Williams and Jensen, which employs America's Foundation's treasurer, Barbara Bonfiglio.

Although America's Foundation paid out tens of thousands of dollars in itemized travel expenses, including chartered jets and commercial air tickets, Amtrak tickets, luxury hotel stays, parking and, of course, meals, it also made unitemized travel expense payments directly to Santorum on a frequent basis. The total of these payments over the five years of the senator's current term is $48,188. These payments were questioned at one point by the Federal Election Commission and defended in a campaign filing as “travel expenses that the senator incurred on behalf of America's Foundation and were reimbursed at the exact amounts he was charged at the time the travel was incurred.” Again, other leadership PACs showed far fewer direct reimbursements to the office holder.

Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and former top lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, said that a leadership PAC like America's Foundation “isn't supposed to be used as a slush fund or a coffee fund.” But he noted that even if one could prove that the spending was for “personal use,” which would be difficult to do, he believes that probably would not violate the FEC's lax rules on the spending practices by PACs.

A recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics found that Santorum was No. 1 among all 535 members of Congress in raising money from lobbyists for his regular campaign fund, taking in $145,946 in the first 10 months of the 2006 election cycle. Not surprisingly, Washington lobbyists were also among the major sources of the millions raised by America's Foundation. Although Jack Abramoff is one of the few big names not on the donor list, the PAC of Greenberg Traurig, the law firm where Abramoff worked until 2004, donated $4,000 to America's Foundation in 2003. (Santorum recently said he would turn over the $11,000 in Abramoff-related donations to charity.)

Lobbyists from another scandal-scarred lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group -- which is under federal scrutiny in the D.C. lobbying scandal and recently shut its doors -- had donated $14,000 to America's Foundation and $4,600 to the Santorum 2006 committee. A big chunk of that came from a one-time Santorum aide, Michael Mihalke, who later went to work for the Alexander firm, which The New York Times called “one of the crown jewels” of the K Street Project.

The biggest source of income for America's Foundation is industry PACs -- particularly in the areas of banking, insurance, health care, and pharmaceuticals -- which have given hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oddly enough, given Santorum's position as the Senate's leading social conservative, America's Foundation has raked in big dollars from gaming, tobacco, and liquor interests. Among the Santorum fund's leading donors are political action committees for R.J. Reynolds, Altria, and U.S. Tobacco Corporation. On November 2, 2004, the date that the GOP maintained control of the Congress and the White House, four U.S. tobacco executives gave $10,000 to America's Foundation -- in addition to $6,000 in donations from the firm's PAC that same year. Earlier in October 2004, Santorum had been a key vote in a House-Senate conference committee that killed a provision allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry. Also in the fall of 2004, America's Foundation received $5,000 from the Anheuser-Busch PAC. That summer they received $1,000 from the Miller Brewing PAC. In April 2005, Santorum introduced legislation that aimed to halve federal excise taxes on beer, from $18 to $9 a barrel for large brewers.

Santorum has not received as much gaming money as certain other members of Congress. Over the past five years, the Mashantucket Pequot Indians, who operate a casino in Connecticut, have given $17,500 to America's Foundation ($5,000 of that to a now defunct “non-federal” account). In 2001, according to published reports, Santorum joined with his Pennsylvania Senate colleague, Arlen Specter, to kill a measure that would have blocked the opening of a California Indian-gaming casino that was backed by a prominent Philadelphia Republican, former mayoral candidate Sam Katz. On August 16, 2001, Katz donated $5,000 to America's Foundation.

Other America's Foundation donors who are not so well known have been closely linked to legislation sponsored or backed by Santorum. For example, there was America Foundation's huge windfall of $45,865 from donors in Puerto Rico on December 31, 2003. Santorum had introduced the Medicare Puerto Rico Hospital Payment Parity Act of 2003 and pushed to get extra reimbursement moneys for Puerto Rico in the reform package enacted by Congress that same year. He also sponsored the Puerto Rico Medicare Reimbursement Equity Act of 2005.

Then there is the case of the $612 million coal-to-diesel fuel plant in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. No one has been a bigger governmental supporter of this controversial project than Santorum, who inserted a provision in the National Energy Security Act of 2000 to allow federal funding for part of its construction costs, clearing the way in 2003 for a $100 million Department of Energy grant to the plant's builder, Waste Management and Processors, Inc. Last year, he added a provision in the energy bill to federally guarantee loans for the plant. Waste Management and Processors CEO John Rich and his relatives have donated $8,000 to America's Foundation and $18,500 to Santorum's campaign fund since 2001, according to federal records. Davis, in response to an inquiry, said that none of Santorum's official actions were linked to the donations.

* * *

It would be hard to imagine an American landscape more removed from the lush Virginia hills of Leesburg than gritty North Philadelphia, one of the poorest zip codes in Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania. Here, the Greater Exodus Baptist Church sits amid a gloomy stretch of pawnshops and fast-food restaurants, across from a Salvation Army center and atop Philly's rusty Broad Street subway line.

Inside the powder-blue walls of the century-old sanctuary, the joint is rocking. “Justice Sunday III,” an event pushing Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito on the eve of his January confirmation hearing, is about to be televised to Christian fundamentalists in churches around the country. The pulsing backbeat of a large gospel choir has the audience -- evenly divided between African Americans and whites -- swaying and stomping its feet. But up on stage, Rick Santorum gazes out with a wide but bemused smile; as the beat accelerates, he bobs his neck back-and-forth in slight motion. He takes a seat, literally at the right hand of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority.

While Santorum, still boyish-looking at age 47, may appear slightly out of place, he seems very much at home when he steps up to the pulpit. He preaches that the founding of America, right there in Philadelphia in 1776, created a kind of freedom that “is what makes America one of the most religious countries in the world, a fact at the core of the success of America in this experiment. But that freedom is at risk today because of the actions of liberal activists judges on the Supreme Court!” From one of the back pews, a listener lets out with an “Amen!”

This is the public face of Rick Santorum, the “family values” conservative prone to rash and provocative statements on hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, the face that graced a May 2005 cover of The New York Times Magazine under the words, “The Believer.” Most pundits expected that Santorum -- facing a tough re-election battle in a state that has gone Democratic “blue” in the last four presidential elections -- would drift back toward the political middle.

Instead, he has cemented his reputation as a voice of the social conservative movement with the publication of It Takes a Family. Published last July, Santorum's book set off sparks by linking working moms to “the influence of radical feminism,” comparing abortion to slavery, and lashing out at “the weird socialization” of public schools. It echoed earlier controversies like the 2003 interview in which he essentially compared gay sex to bestiality -- famously riffing on “man-on-dog sex” -- and bigamy, or his comment in 2002 that it was not surprising that the Catholic priest sex-abuse scandal burst forth from the liberal bastion of Boston.

But Santorum the conservative social critic is merely the latest incarnation of a political survivor. His views on abortion were once somewhere between pro-choice and ambivalent, and in 1990 campaign literature he noted that he had “returned to my Church after a period of absence.” Santorum has also written that his view on abortion was influenced by his 1988 marriage to then-law student Karen Garver. Last year, the Philadelphia City Paper revealed that when Garver met Santorum, she had been living with the founder of Pittsburgh's first abortion clinic.


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The details of Santorum's private life have clashed with his public record on several occasions. The senator has voted for a medical malpractice bill that capped non-economic damages at $250,000, even though in 1999 Karen Santorum had sought $500,000 from a Virginia chiropractor for back pain and was awarded $350,000 by a jury. (A judge reportedly later halved the award to $175,000.)

While experts and politicians may debate the propriety of Santorum's real-estate dealings and PAC spending, one thing became clear during a recent visit to the Estates at Shenstone Farms. Very few of the development's residents can afford the bulky $750,000-plus homes without two sources of income. Residents said that in a number of families, wives work either full time or at home; one is a part-time hairdresser.

A Santorum neighbor told the Prospect that she occasionally sees the senator's children outside mowing the lawn but doesn't really know the family -- which is not surprising since she cares for two young kids while working full-time from her house. In the community where the Santorums chose to live, she said, “Not too many women stay at home.”

And so the political chameleon has changed colors yet again, casting himself as the Senate's leading reformer. But with the November election fast approaching, Santorum is trailing Casey, his most likely Democratic opponent, by double digits in the polls. Florida pollster David Beattie has written that the 2006 election may turn on fiscally conservative, socially moderate voters with weaker partisan ties. Beattie calls them “Starbucks Republicans.” At least Santorum will know where to find them.

Will Bunch is senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and author of its blog, Attytood.com.

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