Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11/15/12)
Perhaps that is the case. The emails exist. Contributions were solicited. Policy positions were staked out. Votes were cast. More votes are to come.
On the other hand, it can be argued just as easily that Range Resources is simply trying to discredit a state official who had the temerity to change his mind. White appears to have gone from an ally of the industry to an increasingly vocal skeptic. Once he crossed the line from being helpful to antagonistic, Range Resources sent a not too subtle message to other legislative allies to think twice about changing their minds (and votes) about the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.
We think Range Resource's smear campaign is at least as interesting a story as that of a state legislator soliciting funds from an industry with business before the legislature. As damnable as White's emails may appear, do they surprise anyone? What is more troubling is that other legislators who may be inclined to change their minds (and votes) about natural gas drilling will be too afraid of a potential public relations jihad launched against them from the wealthy natural gas industry.
With that said, it isn't CasablancaPa's raison d'etre to defend one side over the other. White may have crossed the line. Range Resources may be engaged in a massive, collective blackmail of the Pennsylvania state legislature. What interests us is the potential for yet another hypocritical investigation that could erupt from Range Resource's campaign against White.
State Representatives Stan Saylor and Brian Ellis, both members of the GOP House Leadership team, are calling for a criminal investigation of White:
"'I'm appalled,' said Majority Whip Stan Saylor, a York County Republican, who cited one email in particular in which White appeared to link fundraising and legislation. 'I think this calls for a criminal investigation.'...'We have an attorney general coming in with guns blazing, and maybe it is something she would look at," said Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler County." (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 11/22/12)
Saylor and Ellis are calling for an investigation because Range Resources released emails and documents related to a single legislator. We wonder how urgently Saylor and Ellis would be calling for a criminal investigation if it meant the Office of Attorney General would subpoena not just White's office, but every legislator and every natural gas company for emails and documents (and testimony from staff) related to campaign fundraising and their positions on legislation affecting the natural gas industry.
Are Saylor and Ellis (and their political and state House staff) willing to answer subpoenas or testify under oath before a grand jury about the thousands of dollars they've taken from the Range Resources and the votes Range Resources has asked them to make? It's highly unlikely that a Range Resources lobbyist hasn't visited their offices or sent them letters or emails on some date very close to a vote they've made on natural gas industry legislation. Neither man has been shy about taking thousands of dollars from Range Resources since the company formed a PAC in 2009. (Range Resources Campaign Finance Reports)
If there is a criminal investigation, it must be comprehensive, including the most powerful faction in the legislature - the Senate Republican caucus. Not only has its leader, Senator Joe Scarnati, accepted a free Super Bowl trip from the gas industry (or at least it would have been free if bad publicity hadn't forced him to pay full freight), but between his personal and Republican State Senate Campaign Committee accounts he has accepted campaign contributions from the gas industry - including Range Resources - that dwarf those to White. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2/14/11)
Furthermore, an investigation should target Governor Tom Corbett's fundraising operation and his policy positions. Shouldn't the tens of thousands Range Resources has contributed to Corbett raise eyebrows as high as the $10,000 given to White does?(Campaign Finance Reporters - Range Resources to Corbett) Especially given Corbett's refusal to tax the natural gas industry and giving the state authority to override local zoning laws when it comes to drilling? Will Corbett's campaign fundraisers and policy staff receive subpoenas?
We aren't holding out hope. A very clear precedent has been set on how Pennsylvania's elected officials are investigated, and Saylor alluded to it in his call for an investigation of White:
"White's emails are reminiscent of recent scandals that rocked the legislature, Saylor said, referring to eight former House and Senate leaders from both parties convicted of public corruption. Email evidence was key to several of the investigations, guilty pleas and trials. Even if White did nothing illegal, his actions leave an impression that reaffirms the public's view that 'we are all a bunch of slimeballs,' Saylor said." (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 11/22/12)
That's right. Any investigation of White likely will mirror the Bonusgate investigation - only a select few will be scrutinized while the vast majority of the legislature will be let off the hook. Corbett's own grand jury said as much about Bonusgate in the report it issued regarding members of the legislature using taxpayer resources for political campaigns:
"An interesting item in the report noted that while 25 legislative staffers and lawmakers were indicted in connection with Corbett's probe of the General Assembly, 'hundreds of legislative employees who, although paid by taxpayer dollars to do legislative work, do campaign work on state time.' The numbers seem to bolster claims that selected legislative staffers who did campaign work on the taxpayers' dime have been indicted. 'It struck me that the grand jury was sending a message to the attorney general that 'We're not really happy because everyone does this and why are you picking these people?' [PA ACLU Executive Director] Walczak said." (Patriot News 5/25/10)
If there is an investigation of the relationship between campaign contributions and natural gas industry legislation, it should include the state government players who hold the power over legislative calendars and wield a veto pen.
Subpoenas should be issued for not only emails but for the testimony of campaign staff, legislators, legislative staff, and lobbyists regarding their communications dealing with campaign donations, legislative votes and activity.
Range Resources released emails that may put the cross-hairs on White. He may have crossed a line, and an investigation may be warranted. But Range Resources has chosen to single out White, a critic.
Range Resources should be forced to answer subpoenas regarding all its dealings with every government official it supports financially. Every legislator who took campaign contributions, along with his or her staff, should answer subpoenas about their dealings with the company. How can anyone pretend to justify an investigation of targeting only State Representative Jesse White, junior member of the minority party caucus?