Pennsylvania corruption probe indicts top Democrats

Democrats in the Pennsylvania state legislature face multiple counts of corruption as a probe by the state’s Attorney General continues.  Representatives Mike Veon (formerly second in House leadership), Sean Ramaley, and 10 former aides allegedly used government offices for Democratic Party fundraising and activities.  One aide had no other job but fundraising, and the rest got bonuses for the amounts of money they brought in — paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers:

When you worked for former Rep. Mike Veon, the No. 2 Democrat in the state House, two things were certain, prosecutors said: You would work hard on political campaigns while on the government clock; and if you did a “rock star” job, you would get something extra in your paycheck.

All compliments of the taxpayers, of course.

That illegal culture of underwriting political campaigns with public dollars was spotlighted yesterday in sweeping indictments of Veon, 10 former and current legislative aides, and a sitting lawmaker.

The allegations strike at top party staffers in the House, and more charges are expected, say prosecutors. Court documents suggested that hundreds of Democratic staffers might have been involved in illegal work.

AG Tom Corbett says that the probe will continue, and the rumor is that Republicans shouldn’t get too excited by these charges.  More are coming, and some Republican lawmakers may need legal representation as well.  As with most large-scale political corruption, everyone tends to get their taste.

However, the charges Corbett revealed are breathtaking for their hubris.  Democrats in the House used taxpayer money to pay bonuses for political work, and used government-paid aides for personal business.  Veon had two of his aides drive motorcycles owned by he and his wife to the annual biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, so he could fly there to attend it.   The bonuses for 2006 came to almost $2 million in taxpayer money, which could have paid for a lot of trips to Sturgis.

Ramaley ran his general-election campaign from Veon’s office.  After winning the primary for his House district, Veon hired Ramaley as an aide — but the only work Ramaley did was to run his campaign from Veon’s office.  He used computers, phone lines, and fax machines funded by Pennsylvania taxpayers as his own campaign communication center.

This comes at a very bad time for Democrats.  They need to hold Pennsylvania in November if they want to win the Presidency, but a massive corruption scandal makes that a lot less likely.   It means the end of Ed Rendell’s hopes for a VP slot on the ticket this year, too.  Unless a lot of Republicans start getting indicted, this could tip the Keystone State into the red column for 2008 — and possibly several more cycles beyond that.

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