2008-11-20 / Local & State

Pa. Grand Jury Investigating GOP Use Of Database

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A grand jury is investigating whether House Republican leaders illegally used a taxpayer-funded database as a campaign tool to better focus their messages to voters, a newspaper reported.

The $9 million database in question, developed under a contract signed in 2002 by then-Majority Leader John Perzel, creates detailed profiles of individuals using a technique called data mining, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday.

The state attorney general's office is investigating the use of the database as part of its ongoing "bonusgate'' probe into whether legislative employees were improperly paid from state coffers for political campaign work.

While lawmakers for years have used state discretionary accounts to improve technology in their legislative caucuses, it is illegal to use public money or resources for campaigns.

Walter Cohen, a Harrisburg lawyer who represents Perzel, RPhiladelphia, said Friday that state investigators were looking into the database work as part of a broader review of technology contracts of both parties in the House and Senate.

In an interview Friday, Perzel told The Inquirer that neither he nor anyone in his office ever used the publicly financed database, developed by New Orleans-based GCR & Associates, for campaigns.

Perzel said the database was necessary to modernize constituent services. If a constituent calls with a request, the information is entered and tracked over time, he said.

House Minority Leader Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, also said that the database had never been used for political purposes, and that it served a legitimate government function.

In July, Attorney General Tom Corbett charged 12 former and current House Democratic legislators and staffers with participating in a massive conspiracy to award taxpayer funded bonuses to legislative staff who did campaign work. Since then, the grand jury probe has widened to include the House Republican caucus. No Republican has been charged.

Kevin Harley, Corbett's press secretary, declined to comment, citing grand jury secrecy rules.

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