New light on Bonusgate prosecutions
If you want to sue one of the caucuses of the state Legislature, think again. Despite their political tilt, they have sovereign immunity like other parts of state government, Commonwealth Court has ruled.
By definition, the caucuses are the political party in power (majority caucus) and the party out of power (minority caucus). There are four, two for each chamber of the Legislature.
State laws did not create the caucuses. But the Senate Republicans, in defending a lawsuit against them by Precision Marketing Inc., argued that the General Assembly has “inextricably bound the political party caucuses to the legislative process in Pennsylvania”; the caucus system is “essential” to their ability to “perform their legislative duties.”
In other words, politics and government are inseparable.
The political nature of the taxpayer-supported caucuses went haywire from about 2002 through 2011. Charges were filed against 38 people with legislative ties by local, state and federal prosecutors. Most cases involved using tax dollars for campaigns. The majority were prosecuted by former Attorney General and now-Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
Corbett's probe led to charges only against officials in the House Democratic and Republican caucuses. Three former Senate Democrats were prosecuted by the FBI. Former Sen. Jane Orie was the only Republican charged and convicted. The Orie case was prosecuted by Allegheny County District Attorney Steven Zappala.
Corbett's critics long have contended that he gave Senate Republicans a pass. Those close to the case say there was no systemic scheme among Senate Republicans like the other caucuses. State prosecutors have never given an official on-the-record reason.
The case decided by Commonwealth Court touched on the periphery of that issue: Senate Republicans, in 2009, canceled a $1.2 million contract with Precision Marketing of Easton. They did so after the company president was charged with public records tampering. Thomas Severson pleaded guilty in 2010. It was not connected to his work for the Senate GOP.
The services provided by Precision Marketing included constituent contact lists compiled from voter data found at county boards of elections, the court ruling said. That sounds vaguely like the data purchased by House Republicans that resulted in criminal charges against some top GOP officials, including former House Speaker John Perzel.
But it depends what you do with the data. Perzel was using them for campaigns. Former Senate Republican counsel Stephen MacNett said in a deposition that the Senate Republican Caucus used this information for core legislative functions.
His “uncontradicted testimony” establishes that the Senate Republican Caucus “used the database service ... to obtain or verify residence and contact information for constituents and constituent-communication purposes,” the court said. Senate GOP campaigns bought data from Precision separately.
It's likely to be one more reason why no criminal charges were filed by Corbett against the Senate GOP.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers not limiting themselves in free agency
- Under Rutherford, it’s been a sizeable shakeup for Penguins
- Coyotes’ ability to proliferate despite year-round hunting shows need for culling contests, experts say
- Burnett’s farewell tour wishlist has just 1 item: Pirates World Series
- Winnik impresses Penguins in first workout
- McConnell’s 34 points fuel Chartiers Valley’s come-from-behind victory in Class AAA title game
- Big names become available this week via free agency; will Steelers be tempted?
- Pirates notebook: Infield prospect Hanson used to playing elders
- Kiski Area’s Worthing wins 2nd WPIAL Class AAA wrestling title
- Against Wake Forest, Pitt looks to reverse fortunes on road
- Penguins’ Kunitz makes a dream come true