Tom Corbett's inexplicable lapse
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is either arrogant or politically tone deaf.
Corbett earned a reputation as attorney general putting corrupt pols behind bars. His critics say recent events show Corbett appeared to hold himself above the law while governor. Based on events that have come to light in the midst of his re-election campaign, at the very least he is not acting in a manner consistent with his track record as a no-nonsense prosecutor. And Corbett appears to not understand the message that his actions send to the public.
Corbett was the only top state prosecutor in recent history to actively investigate public corruption in the state Legislature. He obtained 23 convictions against former legislative staffers, lawmakers and legislative leaders. He was responsible for sending five of eight former leaders to prison for using public resources for campaigns.
Now, we find, according to his official schedule, that Corbett met on a regular basis with top campaign officials in his Capitol office and included the political advisers in talks with other key state-paid staff. How much campaign activity was discussed on government property? We don't know. But political gadfly Gene Stilp filed an ethics complaint against Corbett last week. The Democrat candidate for the state House in Dauphin County also filed a complaint in May with the Ethics Commission on Corbett's receipt of gifts, totaling $18,758 from people who allegedly have an interest before state government. Gifts ranged from Broadway shows, Phillies tickets, transportation and dinners to World Series shirts.
Petty stuff? Corbett's supporters would say yes. But people hauled before grand juries for more than three years would disagree. So would a few of the folks who were collateral damage to Corbett's probes, those who were charged with crimes but acquitted.
You see, Corbett made a huge deal about the need to avoid mixing campaigns and state work. Generally, his office held it was illegal unless they were isolated events or of no substantial value.
Corbett's campaign is quick to point out that in his meetings no tax money was involved. Yet the top state staffers he included in meetings are all making six figures or more and taxpayers pay for his office.
Is this a far cry from House Democrat leaders paying taxpayer-funded bonuses to staffers who did political work? Of course. But what about charging people with crimes because boxes with old stationery — with campaign letterheads — had been stacked in former House Speaker John Perzel's office? Corbett charged that the incident was part of a cover-up.
The Republican Party is less than two blocks from Corbett's office. He couldn't walk there to meet with campaign staffers?
As a career prosecutor prior to his election as governor, Corbett should know better. As attorney general and gubernatorial candidate in 2010, Corbett, at news conferences, would pull two cellphones from his pockets, one campaign-paid and another for state use. Did he forget why he drove home that point?
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
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