Mar 27, 2010

Tom Corbett's Political Career, The Art Of The Quid Pro Quo

Attorney General Corbett's gubernatorial campaign has been relatively smooth thus far. Corbett is heavily supported by the PA GOP party establishment and easily won the nomination of the Republican State Committee over primary challenger Rep. Sam Rohrer. Corbett has done an outstanding job of portraying himself as a good government crusader fighting political corruption in Harrisburg. I'm sure everyone has either seen or read about one of Corbett's infamous Bonusgate press conferences. My guess is that Corbett's popularity will continue to grow now that he has heroically challenging the constitutionality of the new health care legislation recently passed by the Democratic Congressional leadership and President Obama.

As a republican, I can see how easy it is to give Corbett a free ride considering that he is firmly the frontrunner for Governor. But as you peal back the layers of Corbett's political career many concerns come to light. In fact, Corbett's entire public career is a political science lesson on the art of the quid pro quo.

My investigation into Corbett's political career and his rise to power in Harrisburg has primarily been motivated by Corbett's criticisms of Sam Rohrer's pay raise vote in 2005. What I have found is very interesting to say the least. Corbett has no direct link to the passage of the 2005 pay raise, but he does have a direct link to the passage of the Act 51 pay raise legislation of 1995.

In 1995, Pennsylvania legislators led by then President Pro Temp, Bob Jubelirer passed a law (ACT 51) that established cost of living increases (referred to as COLAs) for themselves and other state officials, including the governor and judges. At the time it was billed as the pay raise to end all pay raises by former House Speaker John Perzel. Since the passage of ACT 51, on December 1st of every year state lawmakers and other state officials in Pennsylvania have received the benefit of an automatic pay raise based on the cost of living numbers somehow tied to Philadelphia.

When researching the passage of the Act 51 pay raise of 1995, I couldn't help but notice some alarming similarities to how 2005 pay raise passed. It is truly amazing how history has a tendency of repeating itself in Harrisburg except back in 1995 the pay raise had similar characters but a different backroom deal. And as in the 2005 pay raise deal, at the center of it all was everyone's favorite pay raise architect former Senate President Pro Tempore, Bob Jubelirer.

So what does this have to do with Corbett?

Back in June 1995 the state's Attorney General Office was in shambles, rocked by a corruption scandal that eventually led to the indictment and conviction of then republican Attorney General, Ernest D. Preate Jr. Preate's plea agreement ended a five-year Federal investigation of his involvement with video poker machine operators who contributed to his campaign for attorney general in 1988. Although Preate was re-elected as Attorney General in 19992 the investigation cost him the Republican nomination for governor in 1994. In that race, Preate finished second to Tom Ridge, who was then elected in November.

According to a Salon.Com article entitled "Blind Ambition", Ridge made the investigation into Preate a cornerstone of his campaign. Ridge promoted himself as a Harrisburg outsider who promised to clean up corruption Harrisburg..
Ridge promised to clean up the capitol when he ran for governor in 1994, saying he had "one message -- change Harrisburg honestly." He decried pay raises for the Legislature and, significantly, railed against "legislative initiative grants." The grants, nicknamed "WAMs," for "walking-around money," were given to General Assembly members for projects in their districts, doled out by legislative leaders to good soldiers as they campaigned for reelection. WAMs were Pennsylvania sleaze at its greasiest: secretive, stinking of cronyism, far removed from the very people whose cash was being spent.
When Preate resigned in June of 1995 it was up to Governor Ridge to appoint someone to replace him. Ridge took a political risk and decided to go outside of the Harrisburg establishment and nominated Attorney Tom Corbett a close friend for the post. Corbett was already a player in the new Ridge administration. Corbet served first as a campaign adviser to Ridge's gubernatorial campaign. Following Ridge's victory, Corbett served on a number of state commissions including the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which he served as chairman prior to the appointment.

However the Republican controlled Senate headed by then President Pro Temp Bob Jubelirer wasn't happy with the nomination of Corbett. In article written by Megan O'matz in of the Allentown Morning Call on July 7, 1995 entitled, "Wins And Loss Ridge's Attorney General Nominee Appears Doomed..." Jubelirer confirmed that there was no way the Senate was going to approved Corbett's nomination.
Thomas W. Corbett Jr.'s nomination for attorney general appears to be sunk. Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer said yesterday that he will not reconvene the Senate on Monday as expected, because there still aren't enough votes to confirm Corbett, of Pittsburgh.

"It's the governor's decision," said Jubelirer, R-30th District. "He doesn't want his nominee embarrassed."
The common consensus at the time was that Senate democrats wouldn't approve Corbett until he agreed to not run again after Preate's term was up in 1996. But as in Harrisburg things are not always what they seem. It just seems to be a little funny that legislative leaders like Jubelirer began pushing for a pay raise the same time Corbett was appointed.

All of this is coincidental when you think about the origins of Act 51. At the same time Governor Ridge wanted desperately to appoint his good friend Corbett Attorney General, Jubelirer and other legislative leaders wanted a pay raise. In fact, the very day Preate resigned June 5th 1995 is the same date that President Pro Temp, Bob Jubelirer and Minority Leader Robert Mellow first introduced Senate Bill 1074 that would eventually become Act 51 of 1995. The prime sponsor of the Bill was Senator Loeper.

So what really changed in Harrisburg from the time Corbett was first nominated in June of 1995 when Legislative leaders were saying Corbett had no chance of be confirmed to October 3rd of 1995 when Attorney General Tom Corbett first took the oath of office after the sate Senate confirmed him by a two-thirds vote? Amazing when you consider just three months earlier Corbett had no chance of being confirmed. It is not a stretch to connect the dots here and see that the pay raise might have had something to do with Corbett's confirmation.

As stated before Ridge campaigned against legislative pay raises. But according to the Salon.Com once Ridge became Governor he quickly changed his "tune".
Ridge changed his tune on the pay raise for state legislators pretty quick, soon signing into law an 18 percent pay raise for the General Assembly and state Senate.

"The governor was initially opposed to that," Reeves acknowledges. "The General Assembly made it very clear in very short order how important it was to them, and what an impediment it would be to any business being done if he didn't sign off on it. So he did what he believed was the right thing for him to do at time for Pennsylvania. It wasn't something that he enjoyed."
Maybe the reason why Ridge changed his "tune" was Corbett's confirmation. Considering all the corruption in Harrisburg we may never know what really went down behind the scenes. I just have a hard time believing that it is just mire coincidence that that Corbett took the oath office on October 3rd of 1995 and Ridge signed Act 51 of 1995 into law October 19th of 1995. A law that raised executive branch salaries including the Attorney General, state legislative salaries, and the judges salaries by 18% and created COLA raises each year that are tied to the cost of living of Philadelphia. A costly quid pro quo when you really think about it.

My question is how much did Corbett know about the behind the scenes pay raise negotiations between Senate leaders and the Governor during his confirmation process between June of 1995 to October 1995? Corbett was a close adviser to Ridge and was already part of his administration at the time. Did Corbett know before his confirmation that the salary of the Attorney General's Office was being increased from $84,000 to $104,000 a year?

As you can see there is know doubt that Corbett understands how the game is played in Harrisburg. The more you research Corbett's political career the more questions you will find.


  1. Anonymous5:26 PM

    "Senate democrats wouldn't approve Corbett until he agreed to not run again after Preate's term was up in 1996"

    Which is exactly what Corbett wound up doing.

    Your leap of logic borders on paranoia - that Ridge would give an 18% raise to the entire legislature and trade political credibility for the singular purpose of pushing through the nomination of an individual who at the time had zero political power AND had already agreed to not run for re-election which was the blocking issue in the first place?

    Sorry Randy, I know you don't like Corbett, but you're going to have to do better than these bizarre conspiracy theories that don't pass the smell test.

    By your logic, Sam was in the legislature and was probably involved! What did Sam know and when did he know it?

  2. Considering all the corruption in Harrisburg you really expect us to believe that all it took was a promise not to run again to get Corbett confirmed? Consider who proposed the bill Mellow and Jubelirer in the first place. You don't think they had something to do with holding up support for Corbett. Again just a coincidence you think.

  3. And you really think after Corbett agreed to not run again that it took him three months to get confirmed by a 2/3 vote in the Senate. Come on now you are leaping out of the land of the obvious.

  4. Anonymous10:14 AM

    What would Ridge lose if his nominee didn't go through? What was the political benefit of Corbett? He may be a powerful figure now, but back then? If there was a quid pro quo, it wasn't Corbett - the nomination of an AG to fill in for under two years is pretty small potatoes.

    Why did it take 3 months? It probably had less to do with the legislature waiting for the "quid pro quo" and more to do with them sitting on a beach during summer recess.

    The problem is you've taken two things you don't like, seen that they fell around the same time, and decided that they MUST be connected. What other legislation passed or was shot down during that period? Anything?

  5. Anonymous10:19 AM

    The other folly here is this argument:

    "Considering all of the corruption in Harrisburg you really expect us to believe..."

    You make the assumption that because there is corruption in Harrisburg that means that anyone in Harrisburg is corrupt.

    So by your logic, Sam Rohrer was in Harrisburg, therefore he is corrupt.

  6. Read the Mcall article. Senate Democrats were saying that Corbett was too close to the Ridge administration to act independently. And Jubelirer said he had no chance to be confirmed. Seems a little strong for just saying oh we just want him to pledge not to run again. You logic don't make any sense. Jubelirer could have reconvened the Senate and said O.K. he is willing to nit run again. So what would be the benefit of leaving PA without and Attorney General for three months?

  7. At minimum it raises some questions. But OK you are right my research has no relevance and this exercise has been pointless :) Thanks for the comments.