Few lawmakers open about spending
HARRISBURG - State Rep. Tom Tangretti's office door is open.
While most House members from western Pennsylvania say they cannot - or will not - provide receipts for how they spend state tax money, a handful of legislators have done so.
Tangretti said his constituents deserve to see how he's spending their money.
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Some may disagree with how he spent money. But Tangretti said it should be public record.
A reporter spent time in his office recently reviewing receipts for lodging, gasoline, turnpike tolls, meals, flowers and other expenses - from staplers and pens to doughnuts to office insurance.
Every per diem - a payment of $124 for each day spent on state business - was documented with a memorandum stating the reason.
House expense records are available in four forms, only two of which are available to the public - but in limited fashion and only in response to written requests. |
Available for public inspection are:
Kept from public review are:
In the Senate, 'what we make available to the public are vouchers,' said Chief Clerk Russell Faber. Receipts may be reviewed upon written request. But Senate receipts cannot be copied.
A dinner for three at Catalano's - a Harrisburg-area restaurant frequented by legislators and lobbyists - was $91.24. A charge of $8.50 for alcoholic drinks was deducted from the total charged to the state.
The records included Tangretti's taxpayer-funded trip to Germany to assess maglev train technology.
'I think representative Tangretti is a perfect example of a lawmaker with a laudable commitment to public service,' said Corinna Vecsey Wilson, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association in Harrisburg. 'He keeps records routinely because he knows it's not his money. He makes them available because he knows it is the right thing to do and because he has nothing to hide.'
But Wilson said the public should not conclude that a legislator has something to hide if he or she does not make receipts available.
Rep. Larry Roberts, a Fayette County Democrat hit hard by newspapers for refusing to release itemized cellular phone bills, is setting the standard for disclosure.
Roberts' refusal to release cell phone records resulted in litigation by Uniontown Newspapers. Commonwealth Court ruled May 31 that Roberts was not required to make his cell phone records public.
The court 'clearly established the right of legislators to protect those records from inspection and copying by the media,' House Minority Leader Bill DeWeese told fellow Democratic members in a memo that day.
But Roberts now posts a summary of his expense account reports on his Web page ( www.pahouse.net/roberts ). He posts the monthly and annual summaries from the House comptroller.
Those records are not made public by the House clerk when requests are made for lawmakers' expenses.
'I think I'm the only one that does that,' Roberts said.
Roberts said the Legislature should be included under the state's open records law.
State Rep. Pete Daley, a Democrat from California, Washington County, also provided receipts for review in his office. Vouchers were organized by month. The appropriate receipts were attached to each.
State Rep. David Mayernik, a Ross Township Democrat, sent copies of his receipts to a reporter upon request.
So did Rep. Jess Stairs, a Westmoreland County Republican. He provided copies of receipts - including hotel bills - for out-of-state trips he took last year.
House members are required to turn in receipts to the comptroller for review, but they are not required to keep separate copies. As a matter of policy, the House clerk does not provide receipts for public review. The Senate provides receipts for review upon written request.