Bonus Case Suggests Questions For PA Lawmakers
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Incumbent Pennsylvania state lawmakers will be making themselves seen in their home districts over the next couple of months as they campaign to be returned to the Legislature for another term.
Those speeches to business groups, appearances at fire hall breakfasts and handshaking at parades will provide a perfect opportunity for voters who have decided they don’t like what the three-year-old investigation into legislative campaign practices has brought to light.
On one level, those accused of converting public resources to win political campaigns are being held accountable by the legal system in the form of grand jury reports, criminal charges, guilty pleas and the trial of former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon and three of his aides. Jury deliberations in that case are expected to resume Monday morning.
Still, the facts that have emerged so far strongly suggest that the line between campaign work and legitimate legislative business has been kept blurry in Harrisburg, and that many of the people who have benefited may never pay much of a price for it.
That is where the speeches, parades and pancake breakfasts come in. Along with the usual topics – highway projects, the state budget, property taxes and national political issues – voters might want to ask their local state representatives and senators a few questions about the scandal that has become known as “bonusgate.’’
Here are a few suggestions from someone who has followed the investigation since its inception and spent the past two months in the Veon trial courtroom:
The investigation: Did your name turn up in any of the four grand jury reports, or during the trial of Veon or Rep. Sean Ramaley, a Beaver County Democrat acquitted in December?
Campaign policies: Do you allow your underlings to work on your campaigns? What rules are in place to make sure they properly account for any campaign time? What efforts do you make to ensure they don’t feel pressured to “volunteer’’ to electioneer for you? Do you maintain a separate campaign office? Does anyone on the state government payroll serve as your campaign manager or treasurer? Have you changed your campaign policies in response to the bonusgate scandal?
Legislative staff: How many state employees work for you, even those whose supervisors are technically the caucus leader? What are the duties of each? How much compensatory time off did they accrue over the past several years? Did any receive bonuses the attorney general’s office considers to have been rewards for campaign work, and if so, should they have to return the money? Do you make your Harrisburg staff remain on duty, no matter what, on nights when your chamber is in session?
Mailings: How often have you sent out mass mailings to people in your district on the taxpayer’s dime? Have you tended to send them out as near to the election as the rules allow?
Per diems: Do you accept them? Have you ever collected a per diem the same day you’ve consumed a taxpayer-paid breakfast, lunch or dinner? Do you support changing the rules to ban that type of double-dipping?
Legal fees: Do you support your caucus’ use of taxpayer money to provide legal representation to members and employees in the public corruption investigation? Have you obtained legal advice regarding the investigation, and did taxpayers pay for it?
Nepotism: Should there be restrictions on hiring relatives to work for the Legislature?
Harrisburg’s political culture brings to mind the cliche about everyone complaining about the weather, but not doing anything about it. Voters who want to see changes in their General Assembly this year might start by asking a few questions.