New Castle News


March 14, 2014

Our Opinion: Pennsylvania’s politicians continue a shabby tradition

NEW CASTLE — Remember the Bonusgate scandal?

We sure do. A lot of state politicians, including several with ties to Lawrence County, wound up facing criminal charges in a long-running saga that went so far as to send two former state House speakers to jail.

Bonusgate began as a reaction on the part of some lawmakers to a rebellion by state voters over a late-night pay raise scheme that reeked to high heaven. As part of an effort to maintain their seats, these lawmakers ordered state staff to perform political work, basically using tax dollars to cover the cost of campaigning.

People went to jail after a probe that had been led by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett. We don’t think it’s extreme to say the Bonusgate publicity helped propel Corbett to the governor’s office he now holds.

In the aftermath of Bonusgate, Pennsylvanians were promised assorted reforms designed to make government more open and accountable. While there have been some changes, in many ways Harrisburg and company continue to operate in the same paternalistic fashion.

And there have even been moves to backtrack on some reforms, such as trying to add restrictions on Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law.

Through it all, the basic message from Harrisburg has been: “We have learned our lesson. We will behave much better from here on in. There is no need for additional reform.”

This week, however, the notion that Pennsylvania has cleaned up its political act came crashing down once again. State Sen. Leanna Washington is facing criminal charges filed by the attorney general’s office for allegedly using her government office staff for political purposes.

Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah. During the Bonusgate scandal.

Washington becomes the 15th member of the Pennsylvania Legislature to face criminal charges in the past decade. It’s a shameful record that ought to spark public outrage and prompt government action.

Instead, you get the sense that nothing will change. We can expect more such embarrassments for the commonwealth in the future.

Now, it’s true that no law will ever put an end to public corruption. But there’s something to be said for sending a tough signal that it won’t be tolerated.

Make no mistake: Pennsylvania’s traditional lack of openness and accountability at all levels of government promotes corruption. And until the people rise up and demand better, nothing will change.

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