2006 Pennsylvania General Assembly bonus controversy

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In 2007, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett began investigating $3.8 million in bonuses paid to legislative staffers in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. While the bonuses themselves are not illegal under state law, the Attorney General is investigating the possibility that the bonuses were handed out for campaign work. State law forbids state employees from performing campaign work while on the job and forbids payment for campaign work out of taxpayer funds.[1][2]

Pennsylvania media refer to this scandal as "bonusgate."[3]

Attorney General's investigation[edit]

Bonuses to staffers were awarded by the four legislative caucuses in the Pennsylvania General Assembly with House Democrats handing out $2.3 million, House Republicans - $919,000, Senate Democrats - $41,000 and Senate Republicans $366,000.[4]

The investigation's early focus on the House Democratic caucus and Attorney General Corbett's 2010 gubernatorial aspirations have led to charges from that the investigation may be politically motivated.[5]

House Democratic Caucus[edit]

Eighty of the 100 Democratic House staffers who were awarded bonuses in 2006 either donated money to or worked on the campaigns of Leader Bill DeWeese or his Whip, former Rep. Mike Veon.[6]

DeWeese initially attempted to block Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett's investigation into whether the House Democratic caucus made illegal payments to staffers with motions to quash suboepenas and exclude evidence seized. [7] However, months later he abruptly fired several staffers[8] after turning over to Corbett self-selected documents and e-mails,[9] and dropped his legal challenges.[10]

The documents DeWeese turned over to the Attorney General revealed that DeWeese acknowledged awarding bonuses for campaign work and used a state-paid consultant to perform political tasks.[11] DeWeese has not been charged in connection with bonuses or the state-paid consultant.

Grand jury testimony in the case revealed that DeWeese made bizarre personal demands of his staff, such as a small coffee in a big cup, a small salad in a big bowl, or "12 M&Ms."[12] His state-paid aides balanced his checkbook, bought condoms and arranged his dinner dates.

At least fourteen staffers from the House Democratic caucus have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in Harrisburg. Agents for the state Attorney General's office have also seized 20 boxes of records from the House Democratic caucus' Legislative Research Office in August. The director of that office, Jennifer Brubaker, is married to Scott Brubaker, former director of Staffing and Administration, who was among those fired in November 2007.[13]

House Republican Caucus[edit]

On October 22, 2007 House Republicans received subpoenas seeking personnel records.[13] House Republican Leader Sam Smith said some House Republican staffers worked for campaigns, but also said they were not paid with taxpayers' money.[14]

Senate Republican Caucus[edit]

On January 31, 2007, the Senate Republican became the first caucus to release a list of their staffers who received bonuses.[15] The next day, Senate Republicans ended the practice of giving bonuses altogether.[15]

Out of sixteen Senate Republican staffers receiving bonuses, only three had worked on campaigns.[16] Mike Long, a former aide to Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, received a $22,500 bonus in 2006 despite taking several weeks off to work on his boss's unsuccessful re-election bid.[17] Senate legal counsel Drew Crompton received a bonus of $19,647 despite working for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann from July through October.[17][18] Erik Arneson, chief of staff to Senator Chip Brightbill was paid $15,000 in bonus payments.[19]

On February 13, 2008, Attorney General's office officially extended its investigation to the Senate Republican caucus.[17] The Senate Republicans have retained two Philadelphia law firms as legal advisers.[17]

LaGrotta guilty plea[edit]

Former State Representative Frank LaGrotta, who was working for the House Democratic caucus after losing his 2006 re-election bid, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges relating to hiring his relatives for no-work jobs.[20] The scheme was uncovered during inspection of personnel documents during the bonus investigation.[21]

Veon guilty verdict[edit]

On March 23, 2010, after a week of diliberation, a Dauphin County jury found former Democratic State House Whip Mike Veon guilty on 14 counts related to using taxpayer-paid bonuses to reward state workers for campaign efforts, illegal campaign fundraising, other campaign efforts and a single count of conflict-of-interest for having aides drive two motorcycles to a North Dakota rally. Also convicted were two former aides, Brett Cott, found guilty on three counts, and Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, found guilty on five counts. A third aide, Stephen Keefer, was acquitted of all charges against him.[22][23] On June 18, 2010, Veon was sentenced to six to fourteen years imprisonment by Common Pleas Judge Richard A. Lewis.[24][25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ DeWeese: 7 aides ousted over e-mail | Philadelphia Inquirer | 12/18/2007
  2. ^ Dennis B. Roddy and Tracie Mauriello, E-mails show how Dems tied staffers' bonuses to campaign work, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 12/16/07
  3. ^ What rises to 'criminal level' in Bonusgate? - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
  4. ^ Brad Bumstead, GOP bonuses legit, Smith says, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 12/20/07
  5. ^ Mario F. Cattabiani and Angela Couloumbis, More subpoenas, more details in Pa. bonus probe, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/14/07
  6. ^ The Sam Adams Alliance - Building a network for liberty - Bonusgate
  7. ^ Mauriello, Tracie; Barnes, Tom (September 21, 2007). "Democrats attempting to block state probe of bonuses". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  8. ^ http://www.scribd.com/doc/16343599/Inquirer-20071115
  9. ^ http://www.scribd.com/doc/16343487/Agent-So-Op-Testimony-1
  10. ^ http://www.pennlive.com/newsflash/pa/index.ssf?/base/news-56/119524974111020.xml&storylist=penn
  11. ^ http://www.scribd.com/doc/16310986/Inquirer-20090406
  12. ^ http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/state/s_658877.html
  13. ^ a b Bonusgate probe spreads to Republicans | Philadelphia Inquirer | 10/23/2007
  14. ^ GOP bonuses legit, Smith says - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
  15. ^ a b Barnes, Tom (February 1, 2007). "GOP halts bonus practice". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  16. ^ http://www.pennlive.com/news/capitol/patriotnews/index.ssf?/base/news/120287220353500.xml&coll=1&thispage=2
  17. ^ a b c d http://www.pennlive.com/news/capitol/patriotnews/index.ssf?/base/news/120287220353500.xml&coll=1&thispage=1
  18. ^ Tracie Mauriello and Dennis B. Roddy, Bonus pay spread over party lines in state Legislature, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 12/17/07
  19. ^ Fellinger, Richard (2008-02-15). "Bonusgate: Pa. legislative staff bonuses under microscope". The Evening Sun. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 
  20. ^ Ex-lawmaker guilty in Pa. 'ghost-employee' scheme | Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/05/2008
  21. ^ Mark Scolforo, Ex-lawmaker faces charges as corruption probes roil Pa. House, Associated Press, 11/14/07
  22. ^ Former Whip Mike Veon Found Guilty In Bonusgate
  23. ^ The Associated Press March 23, 2010, 9:29AM ET text size: TTEx-Pa. rep guilty of 14 counts in corruption case
  24. ^ Veon given 6-14 years
  25. ^ Veon gets six to 14 years in Bonusgate