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Waiting for Bonusgate charges

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The conventional wisdom at the Capitol is that Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett must charge Republicans as well as Democrats for his investigation of legislative bonuses to have credibility.

There's no doubt it would be better from a public relations and political standpoint for Corbett to also file criminal charges against GOP staffers, lawmakers or leaders to balance out his probe of the House Democrats.

But suppose, just for a minute, that Republicans pigged out on the secret bonuses but didn't break any laws• If that's true, will anyone believe it?

Some Democrats claim, as if it is their inherent right, that Corbett must charge Republicans as well as Democrats.

That logic, perhaps, overlooks the fact that House Democrats doled out $1.85 million in bonuses after the November 2006 election when Dems took control of the House. That more than tripled the $500,000 handed out by House Republicans. Over a two-year period, 2005-2006, the Senate Republicans handed out $366,000 in bonuses.

The investigation centers on whether bonuses were paid to reward staffers for campaign work. But it's much larger than that.

Published accounts have detailed e-mails within the House Democratic Caucus suggesting bonuses and politicking were linked. And I'm told that Senate Republicans kept meticulous records of when staffers moved off the state payroll -- took leave or vacation days -- and worked on campaigns.

Were the House Democrats just sloppy about it• Were the Republicans a little smarter?

Sending a top GOP Senate staffer to work for four months in a high-profile role on Republican Lynn Swann's gubernatorial campaign -- then giving that staffer a bonus supposedly for state work projects -- wasn't smart at all. But it may not have been illegal, providing all the i's were dotted and t's were crossed. That was former Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer's "gift" to the Swann campaign.

Still, it's difficult to believe that some Republicans in the Senate or House didn't cross the line. If so, they need to be popped.

Meanwhile, rank-and-file House Democrats are grumbling about the more than $700,000 in legal bills House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese has paid in state tax dollars for Washington, D.C., lawyer and consultant William Chadwick, a former state inspector general.

Chadwick was brought on board initially to provide ethics training for the House D's but his job evolved into salvaging deleted computer records, then to, supposedly, the lawyer for the House Democratic Caucus.

Rightly or wrongly, some of DeWeese's troops see Chadwick's job as being DeWeese's taxpayer-funded lawyer. They're griping about the notion that Chadwick is there to save DeWeese's bacon and to serve up other lawmakers or staffers to the attorney general's investigators.

Then again, if others did wrong, it's only right that they are being turned over to investigators.

But the perception is there among some that Chadwick is representing DeWeese -- not the caucus.

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