GOP leader in state House urges investigation of Rep. Jesse White

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 9:40 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A House Republican leader on Friday urged the state Attorney General's Office to investigate Rep. Jesse White's emails that appear to pressure Range Resources Inc. into donating campaign money.

“I'm appalled,” said Majority Whip Stan Saylor, a York County Republican, who cited one email in particular in which White appeared to link fundraising and legislation. “I think this calls for a criminal investigation.”

White, D-Cecil, has strongly denied doing anything illegal. He claims Range released the emails from 2010 and 2011 to the Tribune-Review this week as part of a smear campaign to offset his public positions about the driller's operations in his district.

“My communications with Range Resources have always been ethical and legal,” he said in an email response to Saylor.

Saylor said White's emails leave “a stain on the General Assembly and the House, in particular.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Linda Kelly declined comment. Kelly leaves office in January. Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane, a Democrat and former Lackawanna County prosecutor, could not be reached.

“We have an attorney general coming in with guns blazing, and maybe it is something she would look at,” said Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler County.

White represents a district that straddles Allegheny and Washington counties. Fort Worth-based Range has offices at Southpointe and 545 Marcellus shale-gas wells in Washington County. In the past two years, White became a sharp critic of the impacts of drilling.

Range released the emails and other correspondence with White, claiming through spokesman Matt Pitzarella that White strong-armed the company for campaign money, sought a ride on a corporate plane to the 2011 Super Bowl, and accused the driller of hiring “illegal aliens from Mexico” — all of which White denied. He said he was joking about a ride to the Super Bowl.

That's not something a public official should joke about, said Saylor, who ranks just under House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods.

“He needs to be cleared, or he needs to go,” Saylor said.

White's emails are reminiscent of recent scandals that rocked the legislature, Saylor said, referring to eight former House and Senate leaders from both parties convicted of public corruption. Email evidence was key to several of the investigations, guilty pleas and trials.

Even if White did nothing illegal, his actions leave an impression that reaffirms the public's view that “we are all a bunch of slimeballs,” Saylor said.

Saylor and other Republicans said they are bothered by a particular email that White sent Pitzarella on June 17, 2010. White expressed disappointment that Range would send only one employee to a fundraiser.

In that email, White talked about voting against a gas industry severance tax on the House floor that day. White said he and 10 Democrats voted against the bill, “while other members who profess to support your industry were busy cutting deals in exchange for their votes.”

White, an attorney, qualified his comments by saying he wasn't asking for money. The context of the email, however, was about campaign fundraising.

“You never, ever talk about legislation and campaign money together. You don't tie legislation to fundraising. It's not allowed in the vocabulary of a politician today,” Saylor said. He said legislative leaders reinforced that point with new members during orientation this week.

Brad Bumsted and Timothy Puko are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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