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Lawmaker mum on $4,000 gift

| Thursday, May 11, 2006

Under fire from an opponent a week before the primary election, a West Mifflin lawmaker on Wednesday refused to document his claim that he donated $4,000 gained from last year's pay raise to an unnamed autism society.

Democratic state Rep. Ken Ruffing said the group he gave money to wants to remain anonymous until after Tuesday's election.

"It almost defies belief anyone would make such a claim," said Tim Potts, co-founder of Democracy Rising PA and a former top House Democratic staffer. "It's nuts to say, 'Here's my defense. I can't prove it.' "

Ruffing received the money sometime between August and November, when lawmakers repealed the hefty raise they gave themselves in July. Some legislators who took the money as "unvouchered expenses" later told outraged voters they would give it to charities.

"It's phony," Potts said. "It's not their money to give away."

Ruffing, seeking his fifth term representing House District 38, is in a heated three-way race with C.L. "Jay" Jabbour, a former Allegheny County and West Mifflin councilman, and Bill Kortz, a first-time candidate for public office. There is no Republican candidate.

Ruffing spoke with reporters outside his home yesterday, after Jabbour claimed he wasn't telling the truth about donating the money and challenged him to "come clean." Ruffing also countered Jabbour's contention that he has family problems.

"I donated the money to an autism society that does not want to be divulged," Ruffing said. "They want to remain anonymous."

Ruffing said he made the donation because one of his sons is autistic. He promised to provide documentation on the donation after Tuesday's primary, but declined to say why he couldn't do so before then.

"No one from the Autism Society, or other autism-related charities and organizations we contacted, ever heard of Ken Ruffing," Jabbour said.

Jabbour provided reporters with copies of a West Mifflin police log that shows officers visited Ruffing's home 16 times between July 4, 2005, and April 13, after receiving calls from Ruffing or his wife, Karen, about domestic disputes.

The police calls are relevant to Ruffing's job, Jabbour said. "To do a good job in Harrisburg, you should have your family intact," he said.

Ruffing said his family is intact. He declined to address the police calls, and criticized Jabbour for releasing the police log.

"It is wrong to send that out," Ruffing said.

Jabbour said Ruffing hasn't been productive during his eight years in the Legislature.

"He hasn't introduced any legislation. The Mon Valley needs help, needs money," Jabbour said.

But Ruffing said he has brought back money to his district, and that he aggressively is pursuing landslide insurance for residents of West Mifflin. Landslide conditions exist behind homes along Webster Avenue.

Kortz could not be reached for comment.

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