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Has another Pennsylvania pol been snared?

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Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG

It is entirely possible that state Sen. LeAnna Washington keeps her office completely separate from her campaigns. There might be no crossover by on-the-clock, state-paid employees into political activity. Let's start with that assumption because she has not been charged or accused of wrongdoing.

Agents of the state attorney general served search warrants on two district offices of the Democrat recently, seeking evidence of campaign activity, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Washington's lawyer has been quoted as saying the information came from a disgruntled employee. But if there's anything to it, the situation is simply mind-boggling.

Since 2009, at least 27 state officials, mostly legislative staffers but including two former House speakers and a Supreme Court justice, have been convicted of crimes related to using public resources for campaigns. Eight ex-legislative leaders were in prison at the same time this summer for charges related to abusing tax dollars for campaign activity and, in one case, personal work. In all, 38 people with ties to the Capitol were charged by state, federal and local prosecutors of various charges.

So you would think any legislator in his or her right mind would, at least on a regular basis, tell staffers to remove any campaign materials from the office. Memos in boldface capital letters — spelling out the campaign-material ban — would be required to be posted on walls or poster boards above each desk.

Yes, a lot of staffers went to prison but the legislator was ultimately responsible. If I were a legislator, I would be paranoid-crazy about a sloppy staffer, a potential mole or clerks, interns and secretaries seeking revenge. There would be a shakedown every week, like corrections officers do looking for contraband. There would be zero tolerance within the office: one slip-up would result in dismissal.

But I am not blaming staffers; they typically do what their bosses want.

Former Senate Republican Whip Jane Orie, of McCandless, and two of her sisters were taken down by an intern unhappy about campaign work she saw. She said she reported it to Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala after first calling the AG's office and getting bounced back to Pittsburgh.

The majority of the corruption cases were launched by former Attorney General and now Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican. The feds prosecuted Vince Fumo. The search of Washington's office was carried out by Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat.

In the end, the Washington situation is absurd, scary and hopefully wrong, given the warning she and other legislators have had.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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