(280) Sunday, August 21, 2016 – When it comes to state governments judged most corrupt, Pennsylvania stands out. In one study only four other states are considered worse than PA. The Center for Public Integrity graded PA with an “F,” either for failing or flunking or both.
Conviction of Attorney-General Kathleen Kane for perjury and her subsequent resignation from office – both this week — does not improve PA’s standing. The first Democrat to be elected to that office, she brought down a number of notables – mostly Republicans – in a scandal involving pornographic emails.
Kane was never accused of personal enrichment. She may be the only prominent PA public official to fall on her own sword, but unfortunately her downfall comes at the same time other Democrats are snagged for personal benefits.
Two former state treasurers and ex-Governor Ed Rendell’s chief of staff – Democrats all – soil the state’s image. Re-elected treasurer four years ago, Rob McCord pled guilty to strong-arming contributors to raise money for the 2014 governor’s race. Another ex-treasurer, Barbara Hafer recently claimed innocence to lying and tax evasions for funds paid her by a pension consultant.
John Estey went from Rendell’s top aide to executive director of the Hershey Foundation, one of the most powerful jobs in the state. This past spring, he pled guilty to laundering political contributions.
Two of the last three registered Republican governors, Richard Thornburgh and Tom Corbett, rose to the highest state office on records for jailing Democrat politicians. Ernie Preate, a former attorney general, almost made it three-for-three. Caught up in his own corruption scheme, Preate himself went to prison.
Pornographic emails had been circulating in central PA government offices for years, right under the nose of then AG Corbett. He, of course, denied knowledge.
Corbett also denied convicted molester Jerry Sandusky continued to grab children after he had been identified as a suspect. Corbett chose to send Democrats to jail, robbing the probe of Sandusky of needed manpower.
Actually, the current methods of ranking a state for the amount, depth and variety of corruption do not do our state justice. Here are just a few circumstances that do not register under antiquated scoring methods. These incidents smell the same, however.
Sandusky could still go free or get a new trial based somewhat on Corbett’s mishandling of his prosecution. Corbett, his AG staff and Penn State’s trustees and executives seemed to put politics and image above stopping child molestation.
The Sandusky probe, if recognized earlier, could have impacted Corbett campaign finances. By one estimate, if Corbett donors knew earlier his office was prosecuting Sandusky and would tarnish PSU and Coach Joe Paterno’s reputations, his campaign would have lost $600,000 in donations.
Corruption is dishonest action that destroys people’s trust. Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.
Corruption can also be a group sport.
Legislators continue to slow walk pension reform. Is it because any reform will also reduce their retirement income? Ditto for reducing the size of the legislature.
PA remains the only oil and gas drilling state without an extraction tax. There may be no state lawmaker who has not had his/her palm greased with “campaign” dollars from one or more special gas and oil interests.
Gov. Corbett took $15,000 in gifts from a law firm representing the oil and gas industry. He reported these on his ethics statement. Just about every candidate for legislative or state governance office promise to make such gifts illegal. Then they get in office and memory fails.
Finally, both major parties are also corrupt.
They go to extra lengths to insure their own voters will not have a choice in the primaries. Republicans work their ballot choices out almost before most people are aware the offices are up for grabs.
Democrat muscle in the 2016 spring primary actually raided their own campaign coffers. Almost all donors contributed believing funds would go to defeating Republicans. A cabal made up of President Obama, Gov. Wolf, Sen. Casey, former Gov. Rendell and others re-directed millions of dollars to promote one Democrat candidate over another in the U.S. Senate primary. Neither candidate had been endorsed by the Party apparatus.
Bottom Line: Don’t look for help from the Fourth Estate. Mainstream newspapers continue to suffer from lack of advertising revenue and reader interest. TV stations are too busy carting their political advertising revenues to the bank.
More likely, seasoned government reporters advance in two directions. Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette prima donna Dennis Robby became Gov. Corbett’s top public relations flack. Brad Bumstead, a staffer for two decades in Harrisburg for Pittsburgh Tribune Review, never uncovered any chicanery. Instead, he wrote a book about PA corruption, mostly uncovered by prosecutors running for higher office.