Can this House be saved?
Average folk just don't understand how Pennsylvania legislators recorded on audio taking cash from a would-be lobbyist are not being prosecuted in criminal court.
“What the hell is going on here?” asked Dorothy Ripper, 76, of Bethel Park, when she called me last week. She wanted to know why five Philadelphia Democrats who took money from a confidential informant working undercover for the state Attorney General's Office are not in criminal court.
They're not, says Attorney General Kathleen Kane, because the investigation she inherited from previous attorneys general was flawed in many respects and might have targeted black legislators. Kane portrayed it as almost a rogue investigation without proper supervision. Yet the veteran prosecutor running it, Frank Fina, has a proven track record in more than two dozen legislative corruption pleas or convictions and in convicting serial child predator Jerry Sandusky.
The state House could not just ignore this. The reputation of the institution is on the line. Not that corruption is new. Lawmakers and staffers by the dozen have been led off in handcuffs since 2007. But this appeared to rise to a whole new level.
The result was a pre-emptive strike — banning cash gifts. It was approved by leaders of both parties through an entity called the Bipartisan Management Committee. The Senate could act this week.
Meanwhile though, Dorothy Ripper's question goes unanswered.
The House Ethics Committee apparently will conduct a secret investigation of the four lawmakers. All of the deliberations take place behind closed doors. The secrecy rule is there because a political opponent could make false allegations, officials say.
That makes sense, perhaps, until the committee establishes probable cause.
Under House rules, the entire investigation, from initial review to final vote, will be conducted behind closed doors. In a ridiculous twist, the members aren't even allowed to disclose there's an investigation. Only if there's a vote to censure will a public report be issued in the cases of Reps. Ron Waters, Louise Bishop, Vanesssa Brown and Michelle Brownlee, who have declined interviews.
There's audio of a confidential informant giving them cash, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Now, the wording might be nuanced, so the public should see a transcript. The AG's office and the House Ethics Committee should release those transcripts. The House should hold its hearings in the open. In the very least, the vote by the eight-member panel ought to be held in public.
There are four Democrats and four Republicans on the committee. Republicans say the Democrats didn't show for the first meeting. Will the panel be stymied by partisanship?
The secrecy is not protected by state law or the Constitution. The House rules could be changed any day it is in session. House GOP leaders should call for a vote immediately to open the committee vote. Seriously, what are the Democrats, particularly those from the suburbs and swing districts, going to do? Vote to protect alleged lawbreakers merely for partisanship?
The integrity of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is at stake.
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.
- LaBar: Sting making history fighting for WWE title
- No certainty for Pirates’ call-up veterans
- RB Williams believes he’s making seamless transition to Steelers
- Rossi: Continuing legend of Pirate Ray
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin mum on Bryant suspension
- Injured DT Render missing from Pitt depth chart
- Vintage drive-in theaters’ prices, upgrades still draw in Western Pa.
- Derry Township man killed when ATV flips
- Reports: Steelers trade for Jaguars kicker Scobee
- Steelworkers scoff at ATI earnings claim
- Two-vehicle collision causes detour on Route 22 West near Murrysville Dairy Queen