In Harrisburg, much ado over ethics - LancasterOnline: News

In Harrisburg, much ado over ethics

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Posted: Monday, April 27, 2009 12:03 am | Updated: 4:04 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

Last week, a group of House Republicans called for an end to so-called "pay-to-play" practices in state government.

One of the more curious aspects of the proposal is how it would "prohibit state officials from awarding no-bid contracts to anyone who has made campaign contributions to them," as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it.

Never mind that such legislation introduced by Republicans - a legislative caucus with its own cloud of suspicion hovering over it - in a chamber controlled by Democrats has little chance of advancing.

And while it's hardly surprising that these GOP legislators threw a few verbal firebombs in the direction of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell - whom they accuse of engaging in a quid pro quo with at least one entity among his supporters, a Philadelphia-based law firm that received a no-bid contract in 2007 - something more is afoot in Harrisburg.

The bill came on the heels of a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office written by Democrat Jack Wagner, who as auditor general is the elected fiscal watchdog of state government.

Wagner wrote that Pennsylvania doesn't have enough government accountability to ensure that the $16 billion Pennsylvania will receive in federal economic stimulus funds will be spent wisely. The letter upset the Rendell administration, which felt unfairly attacked.

Want more? How about former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, a Republican, slamming state Attorney General Tom Corbett, also a Republican, in an April 15 letter for not representing the state in litigation against a pharmaceutical company?

Meehan said in the letter that Corbett should investigate - you guessed it - the Rendell administration for - wait for it - a no-bid contract offered to a Texas-based law firm. The firm, Bailey Perrin Bailey, is representing the state in the pharmaceutical case and also gave $91,000 plus airfare to Rendell's campaign, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Rendell's administration says there's been no pay-to-play arrangement made with the law firm.

Don't you just feel bathed in warmth by all this discussion about ethics?

I advise you to settle in, because even though the 2010 election is still a year away, we're already seeing what will play a starring role - ethics.

Sure, taxes and health care and state spending will fill their usual roles, and ethics tends to have its share of the spotlight, too. But ethics almost certainly will be more of a shining star than usual as politicians line up for the General Assembly and gubernatorial contests.

State government has operated in an atmosphere of suspicion for the past four years, ever since the midnight pay hike enacted by the Senate, House and governor.

And while that controversy contributed to the ousting of a number of incumbent lawmakers in 2006, including three from Lancaster County, ethics scandals continued to plague state government.

Powerful Democratic state Sen. Vincent Fumo was convicted on March 16 of conspiring to defraud state government of $1.4 million.

Speaking of pay-to-play, two former House Democratic lawmakers and 10 staffers are accused of engaging in a unique kind of quid pro quo, one which allegedly rewarded caucus staffers illegally with taxpayer-funded salary bonuses for campaigning.

Meehan began the prosecution of Fumo before retiring July 7, 2008. Corbett is leading the Bonusgate investigation, which supposedly includes all four caucuses, although only Democrats have thus far been charged.

That the three most visible contenders statewide for the 2010 Republican and Democratic gubernatorial nominations - Meehan, Corbett and Wagner - are all investigators is no coincidence.

E-mail: dpidgeon@lnpnews.com

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