A new conspiracy of silence
No one with power has said it. Yet there have been repeated openings. Legislative leaders of both parties, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and even the Democrats' candidates for governor have failed to seize the opportunity to call for a meaningful offensive against the tidal wave of corruption that has shaken the very foundation of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
There were modest internal reforms a few years ago. There are occasional bills like the knee-jerk but still admirable effort to ban cash gifts in the wake of the latest scandal where five Philadelphia Democrats (four legislators) took wads of cash from a wire-wearing informant. Incredibly, Attorney General Kathleen Kane filed no charges, claiming it was a case botched under previous administrations — an assertion strongly disputed by old-guard prosecutors who left the office before she was sworn in.
At a recent Fels Institute event at the Capitol, Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer called them out. He told lawmakers and staff attending the event that no one has forcefully said, “This has to stop.” And he's right. There's been no full-blown legislative agenda or drum beat to address corruption. Many rank-and-file lawmakers are sick about what's taken place.
Since 2007, 40 people with ties to the Capitol, including a Supreme Court justice, have been charged with crimes. Fifteen lawmakers have faced corruption-related charges; 11 were convicted. Two of the legislative scandals unfolded this year involving Rep. J.P. Miranda, D-Philadelphia, for allegedly keeping a “ghost” employee on staff, and Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-Philadelphia, for forcing her staff to work on her birthday campaign fundraising events, prosecutors claim. They maintain their innocence.
A major ”pay to play” case against six Democrats, most of them former turnpike officials or vendors, has yet to go to trial.
People come into the Legislature full of idealism and they get sucked into a system that, by tradition and action, has been corrupt since the Civil War. After a while, they say nothing.
So what's the deal? There's practical politics. Pushing for sweeping government reform, internally, rubs people the wrong way. Often it's viewed as grandstanding. Tough to get your bills or, if you're the governor, your state budget approved if you've been bad-mouthing the system.
Where's Corbett been? His cases as attorney general sent lawmakers to prison. He ran against the Legislature in 2010.
Where's the Republican Party, which runs the House and Senate?
Where's the Democratic Party, the minority, saying “enough is enough”?
With the public, it's a winner. But that doesn't sell in Harrisburg.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 and firstname.lastname@example.org).