Saturday, June 30, 2007

Open Records for PA Exempted General Assembly?

Open records for Pennsylvania state general assembly is gaining steam, and a lot of exposure for state House Democrat leader H. William DeWeese. DeWeese had been staunchly reluctant to dig into the open records law for decades, some 20 years, in fact... maybe more, will have to check how long he's been in the House, once serving a stint as House Speaker. Now, at the instigation of state Representative Timothy Mahoney, DeWeese has caught the reform bug.

The duo have made joint public appearances, being broadcast on Herald-Standard's Editor's Notebook, and on the WMBS 590 radio station's talk program, Let's Talk.

Watch closely, the GA has been "exempt" from full disclosure for literally decades upon decades. Change may be in the wind, but careful which way the wind blows. And who's blowing it.

At any rate, the Herald-Standard provided a link to a new website... Keep track...

another good read


'Secret' fund buys advice for politics
Taxpayer-fed expense account, not subject to audits, is used to pay a political consultant and buy research

Sunday, August 06, 2000

By John M.R. Bull, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Correspondent

HARRISBURG -- The top Republican in the state House of Representatives spent $25,000 of his taxpayer-funded expense account last year to pay a political consultant. The money was used to help a Republican legislator who is facing a tough election challenge this fall.

Majority Leader John Perzel of Philadelphia also tapped the fund for $1.1 million to pay a company to collect detailed voter registration data and to conduct phone surveys that even some Republicans say were designed to give incumbent Republicans an edge in their re-election campaigns.

"I think they're extremely offensive expenditures," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause/Pennsylvania. "This is public campaign-financing for incumbents only. It is obviously a violation of public trust. Those are political activities, not governing activities."

Perzel used the same fund to pay a Pittsburgh law firm $1.4 million, partly for legal research aimed at helping a Republican representative who had been convicted of a felony. The research was meant to bolster Republican arguments that the legislator could not be forced to resign without a vote to expel him, even though the state constitution requires expulsion.

The money came from Perzel's Special Leadership Account, one of four such expense accounts used by Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate and House, ostensibly to pay legislative expenses of their party caucuses.

Details of how the money is used is shrouded in secrecy.

The Legislature exempted itself from the state Open Records Law and cannot be forced to reveal the particulars of payments from the accounts, each of which received appropriations of between $9 million and $11 million this year.

Nor have the accounts ever been fully audited. The Legislature prohibits its own independent auditors from examining account invoices or even determining if money was properly spent.

The records that are released are vague and sketchy. They include only the name of the person or company paid, how much, when and for what general purpose, such as "phone bill," "caucus refreshments," or the catch-all "legislative expenses."

For example, House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, racked up an $11,000 credit card bill in one month last summer that was paid from his leadership account. He said it was for office expenses, but refused to allow the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to examine the American Express card slips or bill. His House credit card bill ranged from $1,800 to $11,000 per month.

Perzel's spending from his credit card account totaled $1,666 for the last half of 1999. The spending was recorded as being for "legislative meetings," or "legislative lunch and dinner meetings." He refused to release any invoices.

The Special Leadership Accounts are supposed to be used to cover legislative expenses, not to pay for partisan politics or campaigning. But the head of each party caucus has sole discretion in determining what expenses are appropriate.

A Post-Gazette investigation that examined six months of payments from leadership accounts last year raises questions about their use by Republican and Democratic caucuses in the state House.

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