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Crack down on all campaign work

| Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

HARRISBURG

The lawmaker used public resources for her campaigns, forced her employees to campaign for her and tried to impede the investigation.

Sound familiar? Former Senate Majority Leader Jane Orie, a McCandless Republican, perhaps?

No. It's U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., who compelled her taxpayer-paid staff to work on evenings and weekends, according to a House Ethics Committee report last month. One staffer considered them threats. The aide claimed Richardson said, “If you don't volunteer on my campaign, you are not going to be working here.”

The blatant nature of those threats sounded more like the case of convicted Rep. Jeffrey Habay, R-Shaler, than Orie's. The similarity to Orie's case comes with the obstruction. Orie was convicted of submitting phony documents that helped put her case in a better light.

The forced campaigning was reminiscent of the “grim reaper” Jeffrey Foreman, former state House Democratic Whip Mike Veon's chief of staff, who made the rounds through Veon's office looking for “volunteers” like a 19th-century British navy impressment gang leader.

That's where all similarities end. Richardson cut a deal and received a $10,000 fine. A reprimand was recommended by the House Ethics Committee. Today, she's running in a tough re-election battle. In Pennsylvania, she'd be doing serious felony time.

Orie is serving a 2½- to 10-year prison term.

Veon is serving a 6- to 14-year prison term for overseeing a $1.4 million scheme to award bonuses to staffers who did campaign work. He is doing another 1-to-4 for abusing a nonprofit. Foreman pleaded guilty and served county jail time.

Former House GOP Whip Brett Feese is serving a 4- to 12-year prison term for his role in a scheme to use tax money for computer equipment and data for campaigns. The ringleader, former House Speaker John Perzel, who pleaded guilty, is serving 2½ to 5 years.

The case most like Richardson's — though there were not many repeated threats — is that of former House Speaker Bill DeWeese, a longtime Democrat leader. According to testimony, he once told top staffers at a campaign meeting “(expletive) fire them” if aides refused to campaign at night.

The Waynesburg lawmaker is serving 2 ½ to 5 years.

How can one set of circumstances send you to jail in one state and allow you to continue to seek your seat in another?

Every jurisdiction is different.

Bottom line: Legislative staffers, at the state and federal levels, should be banned from campaign work, period.

And the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, where Congresswoman Richardson's infractions occurred, should review the House's investigation to determine if any federal laws were violated.

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

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