Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ethics Cesspool No Wonder the Pa. Legislature Is a Rogue's Gallery

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ethics Cesspool No Wonder the Pa. Legislature Is a Rogue's Gallery

Article excerpt

The Pennsylvania Legislature has earned its terrible reputation. The leadership's portrait gallery includes four convicted felons. More than a dozen lawmakers have been convicted of wrongdoing in the past 15 years. Two more representatives were charged with bribery just this month, and the investigation into two of their colleagues continues.

It's the sort of cesspool that cries out for tight rules and diligent oversight, but a comprehensive report by the Post- Gazette's Joe Smydo demonstrates that's just not happening. The General Assembly's questionable ethics take many forms.

* There are no restrictions on outside income.

The majority of legislators - 36 of the 50 senators and more than half of the 203 representatives - have at least one source beyond their state paychecks. That's disappointing considering that the public provides lawmakers with enviable, full-time pay and benefits - an average of $84,000 with more for leaders, plus expenses and per diems when they're in Harrisburg.

More troubling is that lawmakers don't have to say how much outside income they receive overall or the sums they reap from each source.

The effort of Democratic Rep. Anthony DeLuca of Penn Hills to cap outside income at 35 percent of lawmakers' state salaries has failed - no surprise. Since members won't agree to limits, the least they can do is follow New York state's lead and specify an income range for each source - $1,000 to $4,999, $5,000 to $19,999 and so on.

* Lawmakers can vote their personal interests.

The public has no way of knowing whether lawmakers are helping themselves financially when they cast votes.

Take the example of Republican Mike Brubaker, who left office last month after two terms as a senator from Lancaster County. Through his role on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, he voted on legislation affecting a project in which his firm, TeamAg, had a role.

Or the two state lawmakers - Republican Sen. Robert Tomlinson of Bucks County and Democratic Rep. Harry Readshaw of Carrick - both funeral directors who sit on committees that oversee professional licensure and influence policies that apply to their businesses. …

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