If nothing else, first-degree arrogance
People at the Capitol were shaking their heads, asking, “How could it happen again?”
As legislative leaders, ex-lawmakers and staffers were being handcuffed and placed under arrest since 2007 for a variety of scams, most notably using public resources for re-election, Democrat state Sen. LeAnna Washington of Philadelphia allegedly continued to pressure her staff to organize birthday fundraisers, elaborate affairs that included ice sculptures and bubble machines.
The time span is stunning, according to allegations by a statewide grand jury. Washington allegedly forced staffers to work for weeks, even months, on her annual fundraisers, according to prosecutors. They said illegal campaign work took place from 2005 through 2013.
That takes her through the period of former House Minority Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver Falls, being arrested and convicted for overseeing state bonuses for staffers who worked on campaigns, former House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, being charged with and convicted of stealing tax money for computer data and gizmos for GOP campaigns, and assorted other D & R staffers being charged and convicted for public corruption along with ex-House Speaker Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, for starters. Perzel was paroled last month.
How could you miss it? The Ethics Commission ruling that in effect paved the way for these cases was released in 2004 against former Rep. Jeffrey Habay, R-Shaler, for forcing his staff to do his campaign work. Going back to 2005 extends to the illegal legislative pay raise, approved in the early morning hours. That act alone should have put everyone on notice that the public and media were paying greater attention than ever before.
Through her attorney, Washington denies any wrongdoing. The events don't add up to criminal charges, the lawyer contends.
If her former chief of staff, Sean McCray, told the truth to the grand jury, Washington, if nothing else, is guilty of first-degree arrogance.
McCray contends he tried to get Washington to stop using staff for her fundraisers, her main source of campaign money. According to the grand jury report, Washington told him she'd stop but she didn't do so. After that, she began to find fault with McCray's work and docked his pay by $10,000. When he talked to her about it again, he knew he was done, the grand jury said.
“I am the (expletive) senator. I do what the (expletive) I want, how I want and ain't nobody going to change me,” Washington said, according to the grand jury report.
A few months later, McCray was fired.
“Her response is mind-boggling,” said Eric Epstein, a Harrisburg activist. “It's almost as if she dropped in from another political planet.”
Washington co-sponsored a resolution in 2010 that forbade campaign activity by Senate employees on Senate time. Maybe that was during the period she allegedly planned to change her ways — or maybe she didn't mean it at all.
During this period there's been little legislative reform — by leaders or by Gov. Tom Corbett, who campaigned on it. PennLive.com 's Jan Murphy snagged an interview with Perzel at his Northeast Philly home and asked about that. “What reforms did they get done?” he replied sarcastically.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 and 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’ Harrison awaits go-ahead from Tomlin before practicing
- Zimbabwe alleges Murrysville doctor illegally killed lion
- Slot cornerback Boykin should give Steelers options in secondary
- 4 ejections, benches-clearing scrum mark Pirates’ win over Reds
- Inside the Steelers: Roethlisberger strong in goal-line drills
- Pirates notebook: Burnett says ‘surgery is not an option’
- Steelers notebook: WR Bryant sidelined after minor procedure on right elbow
- Making environmentalism divisive
- None hurt in Springdale house fire
- Pittsburgh airport improvements noted as CEO tries to expand activity
- Pa. breeding ground for corruption, experts say