Ruling Poses Ethics Dilemma for State Cabinet Members
Bumsted, Brad, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
HARRISBURG -- The state Senate is weighing whether to reconfirm two Rendell Cabinet members, after an Ethics Commission ruling Monday that both would violate ethics law if their agencies continue to provide money to groups employing their spouses.
The commission issued advisory opinions on the two at Gov. Ed Rendell's request, after the Senate last week balked at confirming nominees Katie McGinty, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Michael DiBerardinis, secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, for the rest of Rendell's second term.
The opinions did not judge whether McGinty and DiBerardinis already violated the law because of about $4.4 million in state grants to groups that employ McGinty's husband, Karl Hausker, and DiBerardinis' wife, Joan Reilly.
Rendell said he would wait for the commission's written opinion before deciding whether to appeal to Commonwealth Court. He expressed continued confidence in his appointees, and reiterated that the grants are awarded competitively.
"As the commission made clear, today's decision is an advisory opinion that is completely detached from, and is no reflection on, past practices at either DEP or DCNR," he said.
Republican Sen. Mike Folmer, of Lebanon County, called that legalese.
"If it's wrong in the future, wasn't it wrong in the past?" Folmer said. "It's either right, or it's wrong. I am prepared to vote against them."
The commission's executive director, John J. Contino, would not say whether the past grants are the subject of an investigation. A violation of that section of the Ethics Act could bring up to a five- year sentence, a $10,000 fine and restitution.
Hausker is a consultant to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and its subsidiary, Enterprising Environmental Solutions Inc. The groups have received more than $2. …