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Things Not Looking Good at Santorum House

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It's a $643,361 McMansion in a relatively new suburban subdivision in Leesburg, Va. The four-acre lot provides lots of room for the six Santorum children to play. That's not a problem. What may be a problem is the mortgage, or rather, how the senator, who told the New York Times Magazine, "We live paycheck to paycheck," was able to refinance his mortgage through a small, private Philadelphia bank that caters to wealthy investors, but, by golly, its officials have been generous supporters of Sen. Rick Santorum, a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. And this is the point man for the Republicans' ethics/lobbying reform.

And thus starts a trifecta-media report by Philly-area journalist Will Bunch. The full version is in American Prospect, with a nice newspaper-sized version in Bunch's regular gig, The Philadelphia Daily News. Bunch also notes the highlights at his blog, Attytood.

1. Santorum and his wife received a $500,000, five-year mortgage for their Leesburg, Va., home (pictured at [the web post]) from a small Philadelphia private bank run by a major campaign donor -- even though its stated policy is to make loans only to its "affluent" investors, which the senator is not.

Good-government experts said the mortgage from Philadelphia Trust Co. raises serious questions about Santorum's conduct at a time when he is the Senate GOP's point man on ethics reform. They explained it would be a violation of the Senate's current ethics rules if Santorum received something a regular citizen could not get.

2. A political action committee chaired by Santorum, America's Foundation, spends less money on direct aid to GOP candidates -- its stated purpose -- and more on expenditures than similar PACs. And its expenditure reports are littered with scores of unorthodox expenses for a political committee, with charges at coffee and ice cream shops and fast-food joints as well as supermarkets and a home-hardware store.

For example, America's Foundation made some 66 charges at Starbucks Coffee, almost all in the senator's hometown of Leesburg, and 94 charges at another D.C.-area vendor, HMS Host. Virginia Davis, the campaign spokeswoman, defended all the charges as campaign related, noting that the senator prefers to meet political aides in coffee shops rather than on Senate property.

3. A little publicized charity founded by Santorum in 2001, called the Operation Good Neighbor Foundation, is not registered here in Pennsylvania, even though the majority of its fundraising and spending takes place here. What's more, three years of public tax returns show the charity spending just 35.9 percent of the nearly $1 million it raised during that time on charity grants, well below the 75 percent threshold recommended by experts.

I don't know if this magazine/newspaper/blog combo is a first, but it's certainly a great idea in helping (and leading) readers to and through a large, often complicated investigative piece. As of this writing, the story is still a Prospect/Philly scoop, but with Sen. Santorum trailing his likely Democratic opponent in the latest polls, this story is sure to get lots more mileage.