Posts Tagged corruption
Politics, the saying goes, is all about timing.
If that is so, State Representative Daryl Metcalfe was a man ahead of his time when last year he introduced a measure calling for the impeachment of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Metcalfe based his call for the attorney general’s removal on her refusal to defend the state’s statute prohibiting same sex marriage. The specific statute aside, defending existing state laws is a core duty for a state attorney general. Failing to do so was indeed a dereliction.
Metcalfe’s efforts went nowhere, but a string of recent events have eroded confidence in the attorney general who has at a minimum engaged in bizarre behavior and verbal miscues and, at worse, may herself be a law-breaker for having potentially violated grand jury secrecy provisions. Even the news media, which hailed her as the second coming of Barack Obama, has fallen out of love. Many now question her ability to continue in office.
It is true most Pennsylvanians don’t wake up in the morning thinking about their attorney general. Although it has risen above the other statewide constitutional offices (treasurer and auditor general) in profile, the attorney general is not generally subject to the same media scrutiny as governors and U.S. Senators.
But, since Pennsylvania attorneys general frequently try and sometimes succeed in achieving higher office, their performance is worth noting. After her solid election victory in 2012 Kane herself was viewed as a rising star. Like Ernie Preate, Mike Fisher and Tom Corbett before her she was expected to seek higher office. Now there are doubts she will even finish her current term.
For those who are unaware, the Office of Attorney General holds significant power. The attorney general is not merely an elected paper pusher. He or she is vested with sweeping investigatory power, including the ability to authorize wiretaps and to prosecute. We task our attorneys general with everything from fighting illegal drugs to rooting out Medicaid fraud. We trust them with overseeing our state’s charitable organizations, and count on them to work cooperatively with local police. This is a serious office conducting serious business.
But the evidence now reveals the current occupant is not up to the task.
Several weeks ago Attorney General Kane was injured when her official state car crashed into another vehicle. Weeks went by before the media, and by extension the public, were made aware of the incident. Interestingly, the timing was intertwined with an investigation into leaks of grand jury information in which the attorney general was expected to testify. Such leaks are a crime, so if it is proven Kane was a party to them she likely would be compelled to leave office immediately.
Then there is the issue of competency. After exploiting the Jerry Sandusky scandal for political advantage her office concluded then Attorney General Tom Corbett acted appropriately in conducting the investigation. She declined to prosecute after a sting operation found several Philadelphia lawmakers allegedly taking bribes. The Philadelphia District Attorney is now on the case. Kane zigged and zagged on the e-mail porn scandal, ultimately claiming some of the e-mails contained borderline child pornography. Her office retracted that statement, but not before it made national news. Kane and her office received yet another black eye when they cut a plea bargain with former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission executives indicted under her predecessor. They received no jail time for their misdeeds.
The question now is: what next? If Kane is found to have leaked grand jury information she will clearly have to resign. If she is exonerated there will be no criminal charge, but the state will be left with an attorney general who has failed to uphold state law, refused to follow-up on investigations, left corrupt government officials off easy, and has a penchant for mis-speaking.
The simple solution would be for her to resign and allow incoming governor Tom Wolf to appoint her successor. That would take partisan politics out of the equation. Or, she could limp through the next two years leaving it up to voters to decide whether or not to give her a second term.
Or perhaps, someone could place a call to Daryl Metcalfe.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. He is a former executive assistant to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. His e-mail address is email@example.com.)
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These are days of shame in Pennsylvania.
In just the past couple of weeks a sitting state Supreme Court Justice has been indicted, a state Senator has resigned in the wake of her conviction on corruption charges, a former Senate President Pro Tempore has struck a plea deal, and a former Speaker of the House has entered and been released from prison.
Penn’s Woods is in the throes of the worst outbreak of corruption since Milton Shapp occupied the Governor’s office. Former high ranking officials of both political parties, as well as sitting elected officials in both houses of the legislature and the state’s highest court have brought shame upon themselves and upon the government they were entrusted to serve.
The case of former House Speaker William DeWeese is particularly egregious. Convicted and sentenced he reported to the Dauphin County Prison outside of Harrisburg on a Monday, but was released just days later pending appeal. As DeWeese walked out of the prison gates and later feasted at one of Harrisburg’s finest restaurants, those of less lofty status were left to languish in the prison while awaiting trial. Even in disgrace rank apparently still has its privileges. Making matters worse, DeWeese – currently resigned from the House – was nominated for a new term by voters in his Greene/Fayette County district in April’s primary.
Those charged and convicted (so far only one defendant has been found not guilty) have attempted to divert attention from their misdeeds by claiming the prosecution is politically motivated. This tactic spans the partisan divide. Former Attorney General, now Governor Tom Corbett was accused throughout the Bonusgate and Capitol Corruption investigations of prosecuting for political gain. In Allegheny County, District Attorney Stephen Zappala, a Democrat, is accused by the Republican Orie sisters of similarly pursuing a political agenda. But in both cases indictments were issued by sitting grand juries, and convictions came from a jury of their peers. Neither Corbett nor Zappala controlled those bodies, and none of the multiple juries involved were of political construct.
Adding further to the cesspool of corruption that has engulfed state government is the fact those charged and convicted were not low level staffers or even back benchers in their respective chambers. They were leaders: a Supreme Court Justice, a former Senate President Pro Tempore, two former Speakers of the House, and those who held other leadership positions. This again proves the old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Yet, despite the fact our prisons are filling up with former elected officials, and dozens of legislators have been tossed from office by voters, precious little reform has been enacted by those who remain. There have been a few changes; such as ending voting in the middle of the night, and not passing legislation in lame duck sessions.
But the reforms passed to date have been neither significant nor structural. The fact is the culture of corruption that pervades state government stems from the fact the General Assembly has become for all too many a career rather than public service. Once elected, all too many legislators place a higher premium on getting re-elected than in addressing the many significant needs of the commonwealth. That is why the state and school districts across Pennsylvania are standing on the beach ready to be swamped by a tsunami of pension costs, our roads and bridges are crumbling, and our public education system is in disarray.
There has been window dressing. A proposal to reduce the size of the General Assembly is nothing more than a ploy to concentrate more power in the hands of the few. Real reform, such as constitutional term limits, restricting session days to just three months per year, and limiting compensation to that proscribed by the state Constitution is nowhere on the radar screen. Even ministerial reforms, such as doing away with unvouchered per diems and requiring receipts for expense reimbursement, have not seen the light of day.
We are often told by those remaining in office that the few bad apples are not spoiling the whole barrel and that there are good and honest people serving in state government. This is certainly true. But, apparently there are not enough good and honest people – or at least not enough of them are willing to step forward – to make the changes necessary to put an end to the commonwealth’s culture of corruption.
The philosopher Edmund Burke once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” So true, and by standing by and doing nothing the rest of the legislature adds to the shame that today shrouds Penn’s Woods like a summer fog.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)