Saturday, September 13, 2008

Democracy Rising PA latest news is too good to not print

Campaigning at Taxpayer Expense - 1

Three articles in three newspapers this week have set the stage for the next round of presentments in the Bonus Scandal. The Harrisburg Patriot's Charlie Thompson, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Brad Bumsted and Debra Erdley, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dennis Roddy reported this week on allegations that House Republicans in particular used substantial tax dollars, possibly exceeding $1 million, for voter tracking systems used in election campaigns.

Click here for the Patriot story, here for the Tribune-Review story and here for the Post-Gazette story.

The original contract with a Washington, DC company, which dates to 1996, was for keeping track of communications between lawmakers and constituents about legislative business. It was amended in 2005 to include a requirement for Republican caucus staff (not campaign staff) to maintain data "for use in the elections." Remember that 2005 was the year of the Pay Raise when lawmakers knew they would need better relations than ever with voters if incumbents were to survive the 2006 elections.

The 2006 contract, which amounted to $1.87 million, was negotiated during the leadership of former Speaker John Perzel, R-Phila. After Republicans lost the majority in the House and Perzel was defeated for Speaker in January 2007, the contract was scaled back to $475,000 this year, about one-fourth of the 2006 contract amount.

For their part, House Democrats have an in-house system for tracking constituent contacts. The caucus spent $157,000 in 2006-07 to upgrade their system.

More troubling is the $32,000 Democrats spent for voter lists this election year. Caucus staff say the lists are used for "outreach to constituents," including "newsletters, town meetings or announcements about property taxes."

Yet focusing on voters rather than all constituents conspicuously uses tax dollars for electioneering. There is no other purpose for the existence of a voter list than for elections. It further amounts to explicit and intentional discrimination against non-voting constituents, who have every bit as much right to information about their government as those whose votes the incumbents are trying to capture with self-serving mailings and announcements.

Why isn't there just one system for all four caucuses to track legislative contacts between constituents and lawmakers?

Campaigning at Taxpayer Expense - 2

After nearly losing re-election in 2006, House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, is campaigning like mad against Republican Greg Hopkins, who nearly beat DeWeese two years ago. This week, DeWeese and Sen. Barry Stout, D-Greene (and parts of four other counties), promoted DeWeese's campaign with good old-fashioned, taxpayer-funded WAMs (Walking Around Money).

At a courthouse media event in Waynesburg, they presented mock checks totaling $1.8 million in state grants for a variety of projects. However, as the Washington Observer-Reporter's Cara Host pointed out, the news event wasn't really news. County officials had received all but $100,000 of the money in March and April.

While it's hard to justify WAMs under any circumstances, the timing of these phony checks representing very real tax dollars is yet another example of campaigning at taxpayer expense. Click here for the story.

Moratorium for Bonus Scandal, not for WAMs
As reported in the August 29 edition of DR News, Attorney General Tom Corbett has made the controversial policy decision not to announce charges in the Bonus Scandal between October 1 and Election Day. The reason given is not to influence the elections.

What are the chances that lawmakers will impose a moratorium on announcing WAMs so as not to influence the elections?

Rendell Seeks Extra Session Days

Gov. Ed Rendell this week called upon the House and Senate to schedule more than the nine days of session currently on the books this fall. In keeping with the Senate's commitment not to have voting sessions after Election Day ("lame-duck" session), Rendell asked for the additional session days to occur before November 4.

Rendell is seeking the additional time to hammer out an agreement to improve access to health care for PA citizens. Both the House and Senate have proposals, as does Rendell, who is optimistic that they can reach common ground with enough time.

The House is a different story with respect to lame-duck session. Even though 82 percent of PA voters want to prohibit lame-duck session, the majority Democrats have scheduled session after the election. Whether they will have anything to vote on, or just show up to collect more per diems, is another matter.

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