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Unspecified House expenditures come under fire

| Sunday, July 22, 2001

HARRISBURG - House Minority Leader Bill DeWeese spent more than $1,000 in state money last year at the Maverick, a swank steakhouse in Harrisburg where prices for dinner typically run about $40.

The receipts for these dinners - ranging from $107 to $251 - remain secret because the House does not disclose expense account receipts.

Records show DeWeese dined at the Maverick at taxpayers' expense about six times last year. It was one of many restaurants he frequented.

The money was part of $22 million spent last year by DeWeese and House Majority Leader John Perzel out of special leadership accounts. DeWeese is a Democrat from Greene County. Perzel is a Republican from Philadelphia.

DeWeese's office described the dinners as 'legislative meetings.'

'Sometimes he takes foreign dignitaries out. Sometimes it is officials from other states. Sometimes it's members,' said a spokesman, Mike Manzo.

The accounts help run the House Republican and Democratic caucuses. The funds have paid for issue-based polling, meals and catered dinners for lawmakers, and contracts to keep former House members on the public payroll.

The leadership funds represent about 16 percent of the $139 million used to run the House.

The Senate has $9.2 million accounts for the leader of each caucus, but the records are open to inspection and the controls apparently tighter.

In one month last year, Perzel spent $753 at the Beer and Soda Depot in Harrisburg; another month, he spent $1,085 there. He also spent $3,209 for 'legislative luncheon' meetings in May 2000 at JDK Catering Inc.

Steve Drachler, a spokesman for Perzel, said the Beer and Soda Depot purchases were for soda, bottled water and juice - not alcohol. The catering bill, he said, was for a GOP caucus luncheon while the House was in session.

'The vast majority of that account is to provide services to members of the Republican caucus,' Drachler said.

DeWeese also charged thousands of dollars in 'legislative expenses' to credit cards and then was reimbursed from his leadership account. Because receipts are withheld under House policy, there's no way to tell how he spent the money.

DeWeese has been criticized in newspaper editorials across the state for refusing to release the receipts for credit card bills. He would not provide them to the Trib.

Instead, he offered a list of categories for the charges, such as travel, office and meals.

It was clear that the $9,313 spent by DeWeese on 'legislative expenses' last December at Our Daily Bread, a Harrisburg restaurant, was for meals.

The expense was one of several at that restaurant - including more than $5,000 on three occasions in October. Manzo said the meals were catered lunches or dinners for the caucus on days when the Legislature was in session.

Manzo said DeWeese would not provide a receipt.

'We submit those (receipts) to the chief clerk,' he said. 'They are protected under the Open Records Law.

Catering from Our Daily Bread typically amounts to sandwiches, soup and potato salad for Democratic members of the House and their staffs, Manzo said.

Brad Bumsted can be reached at bbumsted@tribweb.com or (717) 787-1405.

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