Pennsylvania government corruption
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Critics have alleged that then-Attorney General Tom Corbett tried to have it both ways as he ran two statewide campaigns — a re-election bid for attorney general in 2008 and his campaign for governor — while prosecuting other elected officials for political activity on state time. Some have said that Corbett has a double standard, engaging in the same activity of he was prosecuting. Two Bonusgate defendants filed a private criminal complaint against Corbett. Corbetts' campaign spokesman said, "This is another attempt by two corrupt politicians to shift blame away from their own crimes."
The House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans each have their own caucus, and the caucus hires all legislative staffers -- from party research specialists to the part-time secretary in a district office -- paid for by a lump sum of money given by the state to caucus leadership every year for the leaders then divide as they see fit.
Bonuses to staffers were awarded by the four legislative caucuses in the Pennsylvania General Assembly with House Democrats handing out $2.3 million, House Republicans - $919,000, Senate Democrats - $41,000 and Senate Republicans $366,000. 
The investigation's early focus on the House Democratic caucus and Attorney General Corbett's 2010 gubernatorial aspirations have led to charges from that the investigation may be politically motivated.
Democratic state representative Mark B. Cohen suggested an "apparent reluctance of Attorney General Tom Corbett to go after Republicans giving and getting bonuses after doing campaign work with the same zeal as Democrats..."
"There is legislation working its way through our state Senate that would allow local governments to post public notices only on their Web sites. It sounds innocent enough. But it is bad legislation that in the end will cost more and mean you will know less about what is going on in your community. For many of the poor or those in some of our more rural areas, it means you will be cut off completely from critical local information."
PA In a January 6 opinion issued by a Pennsylvania appellate court panel, the court established that emails and documents stored by a township commissioner on his or her personal computer were not considered public records. The court felt that the commissioner alone could not act on behalf of the township and thus the records on his personal computer could not be considered public records. Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records has voiced concern over the ruling due to its capacity to create a loophole for officers to avoid the law. It is unknown if the decision will be appealed.
The school district's swap deals cost them and taxpayers over $57-million since they began using them in 2003, warranting Auditor General Jack Wagner's impending investigation. A swap is an agreement to pay off debt that is based on a variable short-term interest rate, with the hope that lending rates will stay below long-term interest rates.
The BASD conducted 17 swap transactions through JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley, the most of any school district in Pennsylvania. They were supposed to save taxpayers money, according to Superintendent Joseph Lewis, but the raised rates incurred a penalty.
Wagner's office will look at the economic impact the swaps had on BASD after state Senator Lisa Boscola's June call for a thorough review.
If the City of Pittsburgh cannot raise the approximately $220 million in assets in its retirement plan to cover 50% of the plan’s obligations by Dec. 31, Pennsylvania will take over the pension fund pursuant to state law.  Currently, the city’s retirement plan has just 28% of the assets necessary to cover its obligations. The state takeover would compel Pittsburgh to make the payments needed to assure pensions for 8,000 active and retired employees.  On Nov. 4, 2010, the state's actuary informed the Pittsburgh city council that, if the state takes over the Pittsburgh pension fund, the city will be forced to pay about $3.6 billion over the next 30 years to ensure the fund's solvency. 
YORK TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania: The Board of Commissioners of York Township in York County, Pennsylvania voted on September 8 to appeal a decision of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. In a possibly unprecedented move, however, the Board of Commissioners will not foot the bill for the legal appeal; rather, one commissioner will personally pay for the legal fight.
The York Township Commissioners had denied several neighborhood housing projects early in 2009. The emails request was made to the Commissioners by the developer's attorney, but it was denied. The attorney then took the request to the state office of open records, who ruled that the township was required to turn over the emails. The developer responded by filing a lawsuit suggesting that two of the Commissioners were involved in an illegal conspiracy to stop the project.
The Board of Commissioners had twice previously voted not to appeal the directive to the York County Court of Common Pleas and had urged the two commissioners to turn over the personal and business emails. In a closed session, the 3-2 decision to fight the decision of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records stipulates that no taxpayer funds be used in the legal battle.
Monroe County, Pennsylvania Monroe county judge, Ronald Vican, overturned two rulings of the newly founded Office of Open Records (OOR) this month, dealing a blow to Pennsylvania transparency and open records. The cases revolve around a number of school district documents including information packets and W-2 forms.
Clearfield County, PA - Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law has been interpreted by the Office of Open Records to mean that records held by a company hired by a Commonwealth agency are considered public records and are subject to the law. Therefore, the records need to be supplied by the agency even if they do not have physical possession of the required records.
In this case, the Greater Pennsylvania Regional council of Carpenters requested public information about the payroll disbursements of a Clearfield County grant given to the Bionol ethanol project through the Clearfield County Economic Development Corporation. The Office of Open Records ruled that the records are public and still subject to the Right to Know Law.
Bionol estimates the cost to copy the payroll records, redacting social security numbers, is approximately $6000 for the 6,000 pages, and that it would take longer than the 30-day deadline given by the Office of Open Records. Furthermore, Bionol is asking for the payment up front. The Right to Know law limits the county charge for public records copies to 25cents per page. The law does not actually say who would be responsible for the additional cost, so negotiations are in process.
Harrisburg, PA This past week a three member panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that the records of ancillary court employees are exempt from records requests under the same exemption as the courts themselves. The ruling will broaden the exemption of the court system if it survives the appeal to higher courts by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.
Pennsylvania Update:The ESU Foundation has appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court arguing that the decision of the appeals court was too broad and would result in all private agencies that had dealings with the government to be subject to the Right to Know Law.
A state court this past week issued its ruling in the case of Pocono Record v. ESU Foundation, upholding the decision of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records and ordering the release of the Foundations records, despite it being a legally private entity separate from the university. In a 7-0 opinion written by Judge Dan Pellegrini, the court rejected the Foundation's argument that only essential legally required government functions fell under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law and adopted a broader definition to include all contracts into which a governing body enters thereby setting an important precedent concerning private agencies within the new public records law.
The plea agreements that the judges were discussing collapsed, but they would have sent them to jail for 87 months on two counts. Now they are charged with racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery and tax violations for allegedly accepting $2.8 million from the owner and builder of two for-profit juvenile detention centers that made millions from county contracts with the judges’ help, read a U.S. Attorney’s Office press release.
The U.S. Attorney's Office did not make actual indictment public after it was handed down the evening of September 9, 2009 in Harrisburg. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Heidi Havens, said the indictment will likely be posted September 10.
The prosecution alleges that the LCOMM EFFORT was started by Rep. Mike Veon and Michael Manzo, the former chief of staff to Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese. The programs was designed to expand the caucus constituent outreach program through the internet.
Eric Buxton, the son of Rep. Ron Buxton, was placed in charge of running the effort. After failed attempts of people signing up on the Democratic site, the party began to buy e-mails for $.10 cents an e-mail from vendors. The company bought $1.2 million dollars worth of e-mails with taxpayer money that was then used to campaign for democrats. Buxton, who has been granted immunity, told authorities, "it was very clear from the beginning" that the effort was all about campaigns, not government.
The following are incidents cited by Buxton:
- A server was rented in Michigan to hide that campaign e-mails were being sent from the taxpayer owned caucus computer system
- E-mails were designed to insinuate that they were being paid for by the Democratic Campaign Committee, not taxpayer sources
- Buxton arranged to stop working in a the public sector, instead working the same job as a private consultant. This arranged for his salary to increase from $51,000 annually to $16,875 monthly.
- Over 26 months the public paid Buxton $420,000
- Even though Buxton was running the system another private consultant was hired for $82,550 to run more taxpayer funded e-mail campaigns
- Randy Parry's receipts
- Mark Runco's receipts
- Lisa Rovinsky's receipts
- Deborah Shevchik's receipts
- Thomas Logan's receipts
In launching the site, Weissmann stated, "Since taking office as Pennsylvania Treasurer, I have been committed to making the Commonwealth's financial information and operations more accessible to all Pennsylvanians. We are pleased to offer this new free, online service as part of our commitment to bringing good governance and transparency into all of our day-to-day operations."
The Governor expressed satisfaction with the database, referring to it "the first of many action items" that "will continue to break down the barriers between Pennsylvania citizens and government."
The site has been described as "user-friendly", but concerns have also been voiced about the potential for redaction of vital information. 
Changing the Right to Know Act was the main focus of the state legislature's reform agenda. The new law creates the Office of Open Records, which will help both government officials and the public to understand and act according to the changes. Among its duties, the office will hear most open records appeals, hold hearings, issue orders and advisory opinions, and provide training.
Terry Mutchler was appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell to head the office. Mutchler called this "one of the most significant changes in Pennsylvania law in the last 50 years as related to government access." He went on to say, "My first role is to get the office up and running to do all the law requires. My other goal is to insure there is proper enforcement of the law. My role is to insure this office gets created to be a resource to citizens and government officials so everyone is ready to play ball here once it is set up. My role will be to enforce the Right to Know law, monitor and handle the appeals."
The Montgomery County District Attorney is launching a political corruption hotline so that residents can report on the behavior of political officials. District Attorney Risa Ferman said she created the office residents should have a place to report government corruption and know that the information would be vetted and investigated.
Corbett's office began their investigation after a series of newspaper reports showed that millions of taxpayer dollars had been used to pay bonuses to employees of the Pennsylvania legislature. Agents from the Public Corruption Unit interviewed hundreds of people and sorted through thousands of documents before grand juries were called in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. In the process of collecting evidence, House Democratic staffers were found destroying documents from the Democratic Legislative Research Office. The Attorney General would seize 20 boxes of documents from this office.
The Pennsylvania House Republican Policy Committee held a hearing yesterday on proposals to create a state spending transparency for Pennsylvania, with particular attention paid to HB 1460 (similar legislation passed the Pennsylvania Senate last month).
Lawmakers heard testimony from the Center for Fiscal Accountability, sponsors of transparency websites in Kansas and Missouri, the Commonwealth Foundation, and the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. Presenters noted the benefits of transparency portals, the likely effect of reducing open records requests, and the savings experienced in other states, while rejecting claims of exorbitant costs or that the information was already available.
"A state open records request has York Township looking into options for how e-mails are received and sent by its commissioners, because some e-mails may be in a private company's files and are not open to public review.
In a March appeal involving township Commissioner Philip W. Briddell, the state's Office of Open Records said that e-mails in a private company's files are public if they include correspondence by a public official. But the open records office said it can't force a municipality to search those files, and can't force a company to produce the e-mails."
"Just because the Wall Street West effort receives more than $20 million in public funding doesn’t mean its finances are subject to public scrutiny.
That’s according to officials at Wall Street West, the nonprofit economic development group, which successfully argued before the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records that it is not subject to the state Right to Know Law."
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