A portion of former Speaker and star "computergate" witness John Perzel's testimony yesterday offers the best example yet of the obtuseness of Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's investigation of the legislature.
"Perhaps Perzel's most tantalizing testimony was about people not seated at the defense table. At one point, he was asked about current House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), who was not charged in the Computergate case. Perzel testified that Smith, then also in the House GOP leadership, controlled the caucus' checkbook and had to sign off on the computer-software contracts. 'Sam would do whatever I asked him to do,' said Perzel." (Inquirer 10/19/11)
One of the many illegal things Perzel asked Smith to do was sign these taxpayer-funded contracts with GCR, worth over $4 million, that were mainly for campaign work, not official legislative functions.
Now, compare Perzel's testimony that Smith did what he was asked to do regarding millions of dollars with this testimony from a "bonusgate" witness regarding campaign work done by legislative staff while on the taxpayer payroll using taxpayer resources:
"No one ever said, 'This is part of your job.' I was just asked to do it and I did it." (Post-Gazette 3/2/10)
Dozens and dozens of staff from both sides of the aisle were put under enormous pressure and peril by Corbett's investigation. They were threatened with arrest, put in fear of losing their jobs after witnessing other staff being fired, dragged before a grand jury, and then thrust into the public spotlight during the well-publicized trials. All because they were "asked to do it and did it."
Yet, Smith who was asked to approve millions of dollars of taxpayer money for what "everyone" knew to be illegal campaign work was never forced to testify before the grand jury and isn't on the government's witness list for the "computergate" trial. The only reason that Smith will have to answer publicly, and under oath, about his clear involvement in the "computergate" scheme is because the defense is calling him as a witness. (Tribune-Review 10/19/11) The prosecution wouldn't go so far as to inconvenience him.
Smith's experience mirrors that of every other elected official from both parties when it comes to Corbett's investigation. With the sole exception of defendant DeWeese, not a single legislator, past or present, was brought before a grand jury to testify for these investigations or used as a government witness in any of the trials, even though dozens and dozens of them show up in trial exhibits, grand jury testimony, and Corbett's own presentments.
At the end of the day, who is really being held accountable? Members of staff doing what they were told? A mere handful of washed-up current and ex-members of the legislature, like Perzel, Feese, Veon, DeWeese, and Stetler, who have absolutely no influence on the success or failure of now-Governor Corbett's legislative agenda?
If all this illegal campaign activity had occurred in a vacuum that included only those indicted, then this would make sense. But that simply isn't the case. Testimony, trial exhibits, and just plain ol' common knowledge proves that huge swaths of the current membership of the General Assembly knew, condoned, benefited from, and even participated in the use of both caucus' resources for their own re-elections.
Shame on Corbett for conducting an investigation in this manner. Shame on those of us who work in and around state government for letting Corbett proceed in this fashion. And, shame on all those members of the legislature for sitting by watching others, particularly staff, take the fall.