A lot of people don't know this, but the Bonusgate investigation was initiated after a newspaper article detailed some of the illegal activity inside the Democratic caucus in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The same thing happened with the PHEAA spending scandal. It began with newspapers seeking information about the agency's spending. Imagine how little Pennsylvania taxpayers would know about how politicians waste money if newspapers weren't serving as watchdogs over government. In case you missed it, this is the Associated Press article recapping the reaction of Pennsylvania newspapers to the Bonusgate scandal.By MARTHA RAFFAELE
Associated Press Writer
HARRISBURG — The political corruption charges filed against a dozen people connected to the state House's Democratic caucus inspired editorial writers and columnists to wield exceptionally sharp pencils as they vent their outrage about the Capitol's culture.
The secrecy that shrouds legislative leaders' spending practices is just one element that writers have assailed since the attorney general on Thursday accused a lawmaker, a former legislator and 10 others of spending of taxpayer dollars on political campaigns.
"An internal matter? The public's business never is," said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Newspapers are overwhelmingly calling for sweeping reform — urging voters to vote out incumbents in the November general election or chiding lawmakers for failing to embrace accountability measures such as nonpartisan redistricting or reducing the Legislature's size.
"One does not need to know the full scope of the institutionalized corruption of the General Assembly to conclude that there needs to be a radical change in heretofore accepted practices," said The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, which in January 2007 was the first to report on the payouts of bonuses to legislative staffers who worked on electoral campaigns. "These are practices that may or may not be legal but which offend the sensibilities of hardworking, fair-minded, taxpaying Pennsylvanians."
Fundamental changes, the newspaper said, are needed to return the General Assembly "to the representative and accountable legislative body it was intended to be."
At least two newspapers have called for the ouster of House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese. He was not charged Thursday by Attorney General Tom Corbett, but former Rep. Mike Veon — DeWeese's longtime ally and former second-in-command — and DeWeese's former chief of staff Mike Manzo are among the defendants, and critics say DeWeese's leadership role requires him to be held accountable.
"The Democratic leader has been touting his efforts to clean house, but the fact remains that this alleged scheme occurred on his watch. He should have resigned already," The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. "The probe makes clear that House Democrats need a new leader to instill public integrity."
The Post-Gazette called the alleged scheme "the height of arrogance" as it weighed in on the need for new House Democratic leadership.
"The Democratic House leadership, as we've said before, deserves a thorough housecleaning, regardless of the names on the indictments, from Bill DeWeese on down," the newspaper wrote.
In a statement released Monday, DeWeese spokesman Tom Andrews said the majority leader brought in seasoned prosecutors to help investigate when the allegations first surfaced more than a year ago.
"He was outraged by the activity they uncovered and, with the backing of the House Democratic Caucus leadership team, they did a major housecleaning last November," Andrews said of DeWeese.
Andrews pointed out that House Democrats implemented a Code of Conduct, a Compliance & Ethics program, and other financial and personnel controls "to make sure that no individual or group of people can ever get away with anything like this again."
Over the next two months, DeWeese will consult with his leadership team and members of his caucus to determine which reform legislation will be considered during the fall agenda, Andrews said.
The Express-Times of Easton suggested that a constitutional convention favored by some activists would be a step in the right direction.
"It's time to let someone other than legislators set the rules for legislating, spending money, and being accountable to the public," the newspaper said.
Veon's hometown newspaper, the Beaver County Times, said the indictments also reflect on Pennsylvania voters for tolerating "politics as usual" despite tossing out 24 incumbents in the elections that followed the ill-fated 2005 legislative pay raise.
"What happened in the 2006 election was a spritz of air freshener," the newspaper said. "The job is not done. A total fumigation is needed."
Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer used an equally vivid metaphor in advocating a "thorough, cathartic cleansing."
Baer contended that the indictments are the latest in a series of symptoms of the institution's ethical decay: the pay-raise fiasco, federal corruption charges filed against Democratic Philadelphia Sen. Vincent Fumo, and "the Legislature's ongoing general ineptness."
"I'm talking flamethrowers followed by fire hoses," Baer wrote.
Labels: Bonusgate, Corruption, Pennsylvania Legislature