Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The masters and mistresses of obliviousness in the Capitol Stenographers Corps are baffled - baffled! - over the decision by Tom Corbett's taxpayer-funded campaign manager, Brian Nutt, not to continue to be his taxpayer-funded campaign manager.
What's baffling is that there ever was a moment when anyone thought he could become the Chief of Staff to the Governor. It's not the kind of job where you simply park between campaigns, like, say, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General. You kind of actually have to run the state government. And that would require at least some experience in knowing how the government works.
From The Inquirer: Nutt said he would continue to be Corbett's political adviser and chief strategist. "I'm not going anywhere. I will just have a different address outside the Capitol," Nutt said.
In other words, "I'm just going to keep on doing what I've been doing all along, even when I was on the state payroll."
Can anyone think of anything Nutt did during his years of state employment that would qualify him to run the state government? Or is his experience on the public dime more suited toward "political advisor?"
He "oversaw" an office full of taxpayer-funded employees who spent their taxpayer-funded time on their taxpayer-funded phones conferring with Corbett campaign operatives.
While he was "officially" campaign manager, he conferred with taxpayer-funded OAG staff over politically-sensitive matters.
He was on the state payroll while negotiating sensitive political endorsements.
Under his watch, state contract work and campaign contract work became intertwined.
Taxpayer-funded OAG employees somehow found themselves distributing campaign literature on taxpayer-funded time.
For those who haven't been paying attention, Corbett criminally prosecuted staff members, or threatened them with prosecution to secure their testimony, on accusations of doing political work on state time.
(Unless, of course, your taxpayer-funded campaign work on behalf of Republicans earned you the frequent designation "political guru." More than one journalist who frequently discussed political matters with a "political guru" who was on the state payroll, in his taxpayer-funded office, on taxpayer-funded time, on a taxpayer-funded phone, defended acquiescence in this illegal arrangement in the name of "access." You know who you are.)
Sunday, December 19, 2010
The Tribune-Review's Brad Bumsted once again has his panties in a bunch over "per diems," which are taxpayer-funded payments to legislators to cover food and lodging, and which require no receipts.
This time, however, he's full of admiration for new leaders - Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai - for "moving forward on something of symbolic importance to voters: tightening their own belts ... they want to end per diem abuse as well."
What Bumsted neglects to mention is that Turzai has been as guilty as anyone else of "per diem abuse."
As Bumsted notes: "Influential legislators have often put the arm on lobbyists to buy expensive dinners and, of course, never deducted those meal costs from their per diems. On busy days, the House or caucuses brought in catered food.
"It's called double dipping."
An examination of Turzai's per diem payments and charges to his contingency account - every committee chairman and leader controls one - shows plenty of examples of "double dipping."
In 2007 and 2008, Mike Turzai collected more than $32,000 in per diems, nearly $11,600 of it for non-session days. He also was reimbursed from his taxpayer-funded contingency account for thousands of dollars worth of meals.
* On April 13, 2007, Turzai not only collected a $148 per diem - for food and lodging expenses incurred in doing his job - he also charged the taxpayers $19.63 for a "policy breakfast meeting."
* On June 5, in addition to collecting a $148 per diem, Turzai charged his contingency account $21.60 for another "policy breakfast meeting."
* On June 11, 2007, the taxpayers bought the Policy Committee lunch for the bargain price of $218; Turzai still collected his full per diem of $148.
* On June 21, 2007, Turzai received a $148 per diem. He also charged his taxpayer-funded contingency account $218.18 for a "policy hearing lunch".
* On June 27, 2007, another day for which he collected a $148 per diem, he charged the contingency account $70 for a "policy hearing dinner meeting."
* On August 14, 2007, another full $148 per diem day, Turzai collected $31.54 from the contingency account to cover the cost of breakfast.
* On August 29,2007, the taxpayers coughed up $275 for "policy lunch and dinner," plus another $31 for "policy lunch," while Turzai collected another full $148 per diem.
Caucus policy committees, it should be noted, do not officially act on legislation. They are quasi-political entities which stage hearings designed to drum up public support for caucus priorities.
* The committee held one such hearing in Warren on September 7, 2007, regarding "mental illness and substance abuse." Turzai collected $148 for attending. He also charged his contingency account $27.52 for lunch.
* On September 12, 2007 - a non-session day, the Policy Committee met in Berwyn. Taxpayers footed the bill through the contingency account for both lunch - $178.25 - and dinner - $176.65 and then another $27.84 for dinner. Turzai - and presumably the other members of the committee - also collected a $152 per diem.
* Just five days later, on Sept. 17, 2007 - another non-session day - Turzai collected both a $152 per diem and charged $107.17 to the contingency account for lunch.
* October 29, 2007, was a bargain day for the taxpayers. While Turzai collected his full $152 per diem, he charged the contingency account only $86.28 for a lunch meeting and $80.02 for a dinner meeting.
* Turzai must not have been very hungry on November 13, 2007. Although he collected his full $152 per diem, he charged the contingency fund only $25.67 for breakfast.
* For some reason, on January 9, 2008, "lunch" ($56.35) and "drinks" ($14.13) were charged separately to the contingency account. Turzai collected his full $152 per diem.
* Turzai was being especially frugal on January 30, 2008, when he collected only $22 from the contingency account for dinner - along with his full $152 per diem, of course.
* On April 2, 2008, Turzai charged the contingency account $106.72 for dinner and collected a per diem of $152. On April 8, 2008, taxpayers were charged only $32.13 for Turzai's lunch - along with $152 for his other expenses.
Turzai's Policy Committee contingency account didn't pay for every meal Turzai or his committee members consumed when the House was in session or the committee met. Some of those meals, as Bumsted notes, may have been bought by lobbyists. And Turzai is a member of committees other than his own, which certainly provided other meals.
Turzai certainly did nothing out of the ordinary in charging meals to his contingency account while collecting his full per diems. (Nor did Mike Veon, who was charged with five felonies - of which he was acquitted - for doing the very same thing.) But Bumsted's attemps to cast Turzai as a hero of reform fall a little flat.
The Dauphin County Work Release Center ... is a Community Corrections facility utilized by the Courts to incarcerated sentenced offenders in order to provide an opportunity for them to maintain previously secured or newly gained employment. (Dauphin County website)
Mr. Foreman was ordered to report to the Dauphin County Work Release Center, which allows inmates to leave daily to go to jobs in the community. Mr. Foreman, 59, is unemployed ...(Post-Gazette)
Thursday, December 9, 2010
28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Presentment No. 2:
"The 25th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, on February 26, 2008. served a series of subpoenas upon the House Republican Caucus ... to produce before the Grand Jury evidence of "any and all evidence of campaign work" that a listed number of employees may have performed.
"Two days after the service of this subpoena, an employee of the Pennsylvania Legislature appeared in person at the offices of the Attorney General and stated that political and campaign material was being removed from a room, identified as Room B-02, located in the basement in the Irvis Office building in the Pennsylvania Capitol ... The following day, on February 29, 2008, the supervising judge of the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury issued a subpoena upon the House Republican Caucus ordering the immediate production of "any and all campaign documents or materials removed from Room B-02, in the basement of the Irvis Office Building, on February 26, 2008, or the sixty days preceding. You are ordered to disclose the location of any and all other materials removed from this location during the period described."
"Subsequent investigation* ... revealed that there had, in fact, been boxes containing political and campaign materials - as well as boxes containing direct evidence of campaign work performed by public employees - in Room B-02 on and before February 26, 2008. On that same date, employees of Representative Perzel directed House Republican Caucus messengers to remove boxes of materials from B-02 and transport them to Representative Perzel's office suite ...
"[Perzel Chief of Staff] Paul Towhey instructed [Perzel's secretary, Lori Lochetto] to transport all the campaign materials, as well as some non-campaign related items, to Representative Perzel's office suite. He further instructed her to then have the campaign materials and evidence of campaign work immediately extracted and moved out of the capitol to the House Republican Campaign Committee offices ..."
How does the Post-Gazette's Tracie Mauriello describe what happened?
"Boxes were moved as atty general investigators were about to execute a search warrant in GOP offices."
The obstruction charges against Team Perzel may seem a small part of the 400 criminal counts alleging a $20 million taxpayer-funded campaign operation Perzel operated out of the Capitol from 2000 to 2007. But Governor-Elect Tom Corbett himself told reporters the obstruction charges bother him the most: "If there's one thing in all of this that annoys me? Obstruction's the worst."
In this case, the distinction between executing a search warrant and issuing a subpoena is enormous, not just legally, but politically.
Set aside the fact that if what Mauriello reported were true, someone in the Attorney General's office would be guilty of a grievous crime by alerting the targets of a search warrant in advance of its execution. If Mauriello really believes that's what happened, it's inexplicable why she would have glossed over such a serious miscarriage of justice. More frightening is that she's unaware of the difference between a search warrant and a subpoena.
The important distinction between an search warrant and a subpoena in this case is that if Corbett had executed a search warrant on House Republican offices - as he'd done to House Democrats a full six months earlier - Team Perzel wouldn't have had an opportunity to hide or destroy evidence.
(Of course, he'd still have risked the possibility that Perzel would follow the lead of then-House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese and tie him up in a court battle over the admissibility of evidence siezed - a battle that coincidentally ended when DeWeese agreed to turn over hand-picked documents implicating others.)
What's important to remember here is that Corbett says he was informed in February of '08 that Perzel's staff withheld evidence. But he didn't even begin to interview (much less subpoena) staff - that "subsequent investigation*" he mentions in the presentment - until July.
The evidence is overwhelming that Corbett never intended to investigate Republicans in earnest until political pressure forced him into it. Months into the so-called investigation, Corbett gave House Republicans the go-ahead to switch out all their computers. As late as eight months into the so-called investigation, Corbett allowed future defendant Brian Preski to host a fund-raiser and met privately with future defendant Perzel. His excuse? "We didn't have all the facts in front of us."
Because you can't find what you're not looking for.