Judicial Watch, Corruption Chronicles
Lawmakers in a state rocked by numerous political scandals refuse to adopt sweeping changes recommended by a special grand jury appointed to root out persistent corruption in the legislature.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office assigned the special grand jury two years ago to investigate an epidemic of unscrupulous legislators amid the indictment of a dozen Democrats and two of their aids. The lawmakers, all members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, illegally received $4 million in bonuses for doing political campaign work in a scandal coined “Bonusgate.”
After a lengthy probe into the inner workings of the legislature, the grand jury determined that the General Assembly lives in a “time warp” of public corruption. The legislature needs to cut staff, institute term limits, eliminate a special slush fund called Walking Around Money and abolish taxpayer funding of the four party caucuses. Lawmakers should also be required to submit expense receipts before receiving any payments, the grand jury found.
The recommendations seem perfectly reasonable but they may never go into effect because legislators must approve them. So far, they’ve rejected the idea of reform by claiming that many of the changes addressed in the grand jury’s report have already been made. The probe is largely based on “perceptions of the past,” according to a spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus.
The past is not pretty. Earlier this year a Republican state senator, Jane Orie, and her sister (Janine) got criminally charged for milking taxpayers out of tens of thousands of dollars by using staff on the state payroll to run another sister’s political campaign. The sisters, part of one of Pennsylvania’s most powerful political families, got charged with theft of services, criminal conspiracy and tampering with evidence.
A few years ago two powerful Democrats got indicted in separate schemes. State Senator Vincent Fumo of Philadelphia was charged with fraud and corruption for using Senate employees and contractors to serve his personal and political needs, resulting in a loss of more than $1 million to taxpayers.
A few months later state Representative Frank LaGrotta got criminally charged for putting two relatives—a niece and sister—on the stat payroll as ghost employees. The women earned thousands of taxpayer dollars for work they never did.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, seems to agree with the grand jury’s “significant road map for reform” but stresses that it’s up to the legislature to decide when to implement the changes. That day may never come.
Used with Permission.