Mar 28, 2010

Can Corbett See the Forest for the Trees?‏

Guest Column by Tim Potts

Although a jury returned guilty verdicts against former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver, and two staff on Monday, Attorney General Tom Corbett didn't have long to savor his victory last week. The rest of the week was all downhill. Click here for a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story summarizing the verdicts.

At his victory news conference on Tuesday, Corbett exposed a curious myopia about the relationship between the trees felled in the trial (as well as 13 more defendants awaiting trial) and the forest of government that he hopes to lead as he campaigns for governor.

"Hopefully the people of Pennsylvania can have a little bit more faith in their state government today now that these defendants have been convicted," Corbett said in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Click here. Other news reports also quoted Corbett as saying that we will never know whether lawmakers have learned a lesson from his prosecutions.

Corbett seems to be unaware and unconcerned that after three years of investigations, trials and pleas, lawmakers have not enacted a single law to make sure that this scandal, which has now cost taxpayers more than $10 million according to some estimates, will not happen again. New laws, plus better enforcement of existing laws, can raise citizen confidence and show that lawmakers are determined to repair the conspicuous problems with state government. Now they seem to be biding their time before reverting to the culture of corruption that allowed the Bonus Scandal in the first place.

Given his roles as both attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, Corbett is in the ideal position both to recommend new laws to prevent a repeat of the Bonus Scandal and to campaign for a Constitution convention where citizens can decide for themselves how to alter and reform their government. He has done neither.

By the end of the week, that dual position became more troublesome. A preliminary hearing for another defendant, former Rep. and former Revenue Secretary Steve Stetler, D-York, had to be postponed. Stetler's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him with the accusation that Corbett engaged in the same practice of using tax dollars to subsidize his own election campaigns. Click here for a story from the York Daily Record.

Judge Richard Lewis has given Corbett two weeks to respond to the motion.

Also, an attorney for one of the staff convicted on Monday has asked the judge to declare a mistrial. A juror wrote in a blog post that jurors had visited the capitol building during lunch one day to see the scene of the crimes. However, jurors are not permitted to do their own investigations and must limit their deliberations to the evidence presented in court. Click here for a Post-Gazette story.

Lewis gave Corbett two weeks to respond to that motion, too.

While finding a variety of activities to be illegal, jurors did not find another act to be illegal. That is the practice of lawmakers charging taxpayers for meals on top of the three meals a day taxpayers already buy them with per diems . Veon and a cadre of basketball buddies charged taxpayers more than $15,000 for meals following their after-hours pick-up games. Click here for Brian O'Neill's latest column in today's Post-Gazette.

Questions for lawmakers:

We often pose questions that citizens and reporters may want to ask their lawmakers. Now the AP's Mark Scoloforo has compiled a list of questions that voters can ask incumbents as a result of the Bonus Scandal. Click here.

And here are a few of our own:
  • When will PA debate a "resign-to-run" law to prohibit public officials from serving in one office while running for another?
  • How many meals do taxpayers have to pay for each day? Why aren't three a day enough?
    When will the House and Senate adopt a rule (better yet, a law) that tax dollars may not be used for food beyond what lawmakers receive in per diems?
  • Which "leader" is going to make that happen?
  • When will the House and Senate require lawmakers to document their expenses in order to receive per diems, just as everyone else in America must do?

Tim Potts is the founder of Democracy Rising PA and cand be contacted at Click Here to find out more informaiton about Democracy Rising PA.

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