Saturday, November 26, 2005

68: "Public Corruption"

As of 2004, according to a report published by the National Press Club of Washington, Pennsylvania ranks 15th in public corruption among the fifty states.

I’ll bet we’re a lot higher up the list now!

One of the most insidious abuses committed by Pennsylvania’s legislators is the expense system. While most organizations have a practical policy on expenses, the legislators have voted themselves some authorized expenses over the years that defy reason. Some of them would make an embezzler blush.

In a recent expose aired by WGAL-TV Channel 8 of Lancaster, some legislator abuse of the system was detailed. In particular, the members of the state’s House of Representatives, are eligible for a per diem expense of $129, while the Senators are eligible for a $128 per diem expense, no receipts required, no questions asked. As originally designed, the per diems were supposed to cover the lodging and meals of legislators who lived far from Harrisburg…for example, in Erie, or Easton, or Washington County.

WGAL found that the following Senators:

  1. Gibson Armstrong (R-13th Senatorial District – Lancaster County),
  2. Senate Republican Caucus Leader Noah Wenger (R-36th Senatorial District – Lancaster/Chester Counties),
  3. Terry Punt (R-33rd Senatorial District (Franklin/Adams Counties), and
  4. Majority Floor Leader David Brightbill (R-48th Senatorial District – Lebanon County), who is also the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee,
And the following Representatives:
  1. Patrick Fleagle (R-90th Legislative District – Franklin County)
  2. Gordon Denlinger (R-99th Legislative District – Lancaster County)
  3. And Gibson Armstrong, Jr. (R-100th Legislative District – Lancaster County)

are all taking the per diem…$128 or $129 per day, on top of their salaries.

When asked about this by WGAL’s reporter, Gibson Armstrong defended taking the per diem by saying, “Consider the magnitude of the decisions our constituents are asking us to make.” Whatever you say, Bubby. One would need to cut Armstrong’s hubris with a jackhammer.

So far this year, Armstrong (Jr.) has taken the money 49 times, for well over $6,000. Denlinger has hit it up 58 times for almost $7,500 dollars.

The per diem is not to be used for gas, or tolls while traveling to or from the Capital. The legislators get those expenses refunded apart from the per diem!

Denlinger also tried to defend his taking the per diem by noting “…it balances itself out over time.” Whatever you say, Bubby.

Neither Denlinger nor Armstrong (Jr.) would admit how many times they stayed in Harrisburg over night. WGAL also contacted all four Senators about the issue, and all four refused to talk about it.

On top of this thievery, WGAL also uncovered additional meal expenses reimbursed to both Denlinger and Armstrong (Jr.) for as much as $76 on days they had also taken the per diem! Denlinger denied it was “double-dipping.” He does, however, admit that the system is flawed and needs an overhaul. Whatever you say, Bubby!

One should note here for the record that in the area examined by WGAL there is a definite paucity of Democratic members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. They do exist, but it was far more convenient, and politically astute for the station to zero in on the Republicans, since they have, and have had for years, a majority in both houses, and therefore, make the rules. And in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, those who make the rules are not expected to abide by them.

Almost all of these men live within the 50 mile limit for taking the per diem. Armstrong (Jr.) lives right on the 50 mile mark, and Denlinger lives about ten miles farther from Harrisburg. Inside 50 miles you are not supposed to take the per diem. There are members of both houses that live farther than 50 miles, that do not take the per diem.

Apparently, Pennsylvania’s Ethics Law, which can be read at our companion blog,
Pennsylvania Laws, is simply too consumed with its own high sounding and self important verbiage to bother with simple things like stealing money from the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.

It would be very easy to take a cavalier approach, much as many Philadelphians did in response to the Midnight Pay Raise. Philadelphians were unfazed, having grown up with City Hall corruption for decades; they are now perhaps the most jaded portion of Pennsylvania’s electorate. What makes them even more so is the over-coverage of New Jersey’s governmental corruption published almost daily in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

We aren’t talking mega-bucks here. We are talking about the taxpayers getting ripped off to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars by a few of the greedy politicians in Harrisburg.

Ask yourself this question: If a few of the ones who live close to the Capital are ripping us off, then what else is going on? Does the adage “where there is smoke there is fire.” Come to mind here?

Do you really want to get into car allowances, limousines, etc.? Of course you do. And if you do get into it, remember to check on the judges, too. Be my guest. I’ll get into it another time. And just for fun, ask that rarest of birds, a Philadelphia Republican, Speaker of the House John Perzel, if he knows the difference yet between a limo and a car.

In the meantime, let your anger build over this rip-off. It isn’t much money, but doesn’t the arrogance, the hubris, the principle of the thing totally have you seething? Friend Russ Diamond at
Pennsylvania Clean Sweep said in a follow-up report on WGAL, “They just certainly can’t be trusted. We have to look at everything.”

I agree wholeheartedly, Russ. this blogger would love to see the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania investigate every cotton-picking one of our legislators and state judges. Heck, go for it, and investigate the entire Rendell administration, too.

Regardless, the news media needs to take a long hard look at the compensation of our legislators and judges. All of it, including all perks, and expenses that are paid.

Maybe Denlinger and Armstrong (Jr.) won’t admit it, but what they are doing is corruption.

Odds are it's just the tip of the iceberg.

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!"--GettysBLOG


“Legislation without representation is tyranny.”

“Arrogance is a fool’s disease!”

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