second, Inquirer) the Commonwealth is being treated to a parade of witnesses trotted into court to testify that yes, legislative employees worked on campaigns, often between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., often using state equipment, and yes, some of those-state paid employees did nothing but campaign, and yes, much of that equipment was purchased solely for campaigns.
Each time, these now-commonplace admissions are treated with breathless urgency, as though the Capitol Stenographers Corps have not been fully aware for at least a decade that the practice ran rampant among hundreds of employees in all four legislative caucuses.
News flash: WE KNOW.
What we don't know is why some employees were prosecuted, some given immunity to testify, and the vast majority left alone completely, and more importantly why nearly every single elected official who supervised, sanctioned and paid for the political work with taxpayer dollars was given a free pass by then-Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett.
(Well, we do know, but the Capitol Stenographers Corps are constitutionally unable to report "it's raining," simply because they see with their own eyes that rain is falling from the sky. They must wait for a person in authority to say "it's raining," and then - for balance - they must find someone, anyone, to declare that it's not raining. That's called "reporting the news.")
When Speaker of the House Sam Smith takes the stand in the "Computergate" trial, Pennsylvanians will for the very first time have the opportunity to gain some insight -- Insight into the the reasons why Corbett's investigation bypassed most of the legislature and landed mainly on a relatively small group of staffers, and not a single legislative leader (the only legislators with the authority to allocate caucus funds)
Former House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese, who was not charged in "Bonusgate" (as he desperately wants us all to know) essentially admitted his guilt in that very scheme when he pleaded the Fifth rather than testify.
Smith, whose fingerprints are all over "Computergate" no longer feels as bulletproof as he did when he said:
"I think anything as big as that [bonus] program they had going, I think he [DeWeese] was aware of it. … As the Republican leader, I know that ultimately the buck stops with me, and I’m responsible for the actions, even if I really wasn’t. … As leader you’re aware of most things. Some minor details I don’t see that go on from day to day that go on in terms of operations. But I think anything as big as that program they had going, I think he was aware of it.” (Tribune-Review, 12/20/07)
Smith had every reason to believe that statement, about an alleged criminal enterprise less than one-tenth the scope of "Computergate," would never come back to haunt him. House Republicans had - with Corbett's blessing - replaced all of their computers months before. Investigating House Republicans was so far from Corbett's mind then that he was happily accepting Brian Preski's fund-raising support and holding political meetings with John Perzel.
But the pressure to indict an expendable Republican finally overwhelmed Corbett, much to Smith's humiliation (but significantly, at no legal or legislative cost to him). Keep in mind that the grand jury identified $20 million in taxpayer funds diverted to political use, but apparently were able to pin only $10 million of that on Perzel.
Now Smith risks perjury if he doesn't testify truthfully. If he pleads the Fifth, he can't count on the Capitol Stenographers Corps - or the voters in his district - remaining as blasé about it as they've been about DeWeese.
This dilemma is rendered moot, however, if attorneys don't ask the right questions when they finally get Speaker Smith on the stand, under oath.