Wednesday, March 27, 2013
SPARE US THE OUTRAGE
Professional fame-whore Eric Epstein last night shared with ABC 27 his mock outrage that a Senate staffer who testified against his former boss in the PA Turnpike "pay-to-play" scandal still has a job.
Sometimes, people who come clean on wrongdoing within their organizations are called "whistleblowers," and there are laws to protect their jobs. But in Harrisburg, it seems we reserve the sympathetic term for staff who testify against Republican lawmakers.
Not that there appear to be any in the PA Turnpike "pay-to-play" case.
Where is Epstein's outrage over the fact that Republican staffers - who did exactly what the Democratic staffer did, let's not kid ourselves - still have their jobs? Even more importantly, where is his outrage over the fact that Republican senators who accepted bribes and the contractors who bribed them have not even been inconvenienced, much less charged or publicly humiliated?
Staffers have borne the brunt of Tom Corbett's obsession with the legislature. Of the 25 people charged in the investigation that began with "Bonusgate," 20 were staffers or former staffers when they were charged. Judging by the grand jury presentments, only staff were forced to testify to the grand juries, and save for Sam Smith, no sitting legislators were forced to testify at trial - despite evidence of legislators' complicity.
Charging - and subpoenaing - staff instead of legislators allowed Corbett to tell a tale full of sound and fury, with minimum disruption to the legislators whose cooperation he would need to advance his agenda as governor. He quite pointedly did not charge Speaker of the House Smith, whose signature was on the illegal contracts that sent Perzel to prison. And Bill DeWeese, whose approval was needed on all caucus expenditures, was conspicuously absent from the original "Bonusgate" indictment. Had public pressure not forced his hand, the only sitting legislator Corbett would have charged was an ultimately-acquitted, sophomore rank-and-filer - not so coincidentally also a candidate for a competitive Senate seat.
Corbett repeated this pattern in the "pay-to-play" investigation, charging the PA Turnpike personnel who facilitated the scheme, but - with the exception of former Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow - not the legislators or contractors who benefited from the scheme.
The reason for this outcome is clear. Corbett didn't launch an investigation of corruption at the PA Turnpike. He launched an investigation of the Senate Democratic Caucus, after attention by federal investigators prompted suspicion about Corbett's original legislative corruption investigation. But then, Corbett never really launched an investigation of illegal campaign practices in the legislature - he launched an investigation of the House Democratic Caucus, which had just taken the majority.
The best way to damage the Democratic caucuses enough to put or keep them in the minority, but retain enough goodwill from individual legislators to protect his agenda? Focus on easily-expendible, non-voting staff.