Pennsylvania's laws on integrity score C-
HARRISBURG -- Despite convictions of 27 people with ties to the Legislature since 2008, Pennsylvania's laws to deter corruption rate a C-minus, 19th-best in the nation, in a "state integrity index" released today.
The index measures the risk of corruption, and states with well-known scandals may rank higher because their tough laws and enforcement bring scandals to light, said a statement by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington nonprofit that sponsored the study with Global Integrity and Public Radio International.
Federal, state and local prosecutors charged seven Pennsylvania legislative leaders with crimes, one as recently as last week. The corruption charges center on using public resources for campaigns. The charges span four years. Those convicted include five ex-leaders.
"I'm surprised Pennsylvania isn't rated lower, given the amount of corruption we have had and the amounts of campaign contributions, and the influence of lobbyists and contributors," said Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg activist who directs his attention to reforming government.
"Pay-to-play is alive and well in Pennsylvania," Stilp said.
The practice of awarding state contracts to large campaign contributors can be legal, or illegal if a public official agrees to grant government business in return for money.
The study's authors asked Tim Potts, co-founder of Democracy Rising PA, to review criteria they used for the study. He said giving Pennsylvania a C-minus for its laws is "generous," and he thinks the state deserves an F for enforcement.
Lawmakers slashed the budgets of the state Ethics Commission and the Department of State, which monitors campaign finance laws, over the past four years, Potts said.
"The culture of corruption has not changed," Potts said. "They're just waiting 'til they can go back to the old way of doing things."
Said Randy Barrett, communications director for the Center for Public Integrity: "If you look at the people arrested in Pennsylvania, it means those systems are working."
Barrett said he realizes some might consider the approach to be counterintuitive. "Remember, no state got an A; and a C-minus ain't great," he said.
House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, said the House made significant internal changes after scandals in the Democratic and Republican caucuses when prosecutors charged lawmakers with using state employees and resources for campaigns.
"I feel confident we've put in place internal rules and regulations to prevent that from happening again," Dermody said.
Some public officials ran afoul of federal laws. A jury in 2009 convicted former Senate power broker Vincent Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat, of 137 counts involving the misuse of millions of dollars from the Senate and a nonprofit he controlled. He is serving a 60-month sentence at a federal prison in Kentucky.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors charged ex-Senate Democratic Leader Robert Mellow with conspiracy for using staff and resources for politicking, including campaigns. Mellow agreed to plead guilty, court documents show. No date has been set for his plea in Lackawanna County.
New Jersey ranked as the top "transparent and accountable state." Georgia ranked last and was one of eight states given a grade of F, the report said. The other flunking states were North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming and South Dakota.
The criteria included access to information, campaign finance laws, Civil Service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, pension fund management and ethics enforcement.
Reform advocates frequently point out that Pennsylvania does not limit campaign donations to state candidates, allows no-bid state contracts and permits public officials to accept gifts.
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.