Pa. lawmakers seek special session on ethics reform (Philadelphia Inquirer: 7/17/08)

By Christopher Wink and Mario F. Cattabiani | Jul 17, 2008 | Philadelphia Inquirer

HARRISBURG – A week after 289 criminal charges were filed in a wide-ranging government corruption probe, a group of lawmakers yesterday called for a special legislative session devoted solely to restoring the public’s faith in Harrisburg.

“There is a crisis of confidence in Pennsylvania. . . . We must respond with action,” said Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin) who was joined by eight other members of the House and Senate who are pushing for a special session dubbed “Governmental and Ethics Reform.”

Said Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D., York), “We are under a dark cloud. . . . We need to get back to the people’s work.”

The group yesterday called on Gov. Rendell to convene such a session beginning in September. Rendell recently made clear he has no plans of doing so on his own, arguing that the legislative agenda for the rest of the year is already crammed with other key bills.

Anticipating that Rendell might not call a special session, the lawmakers yesterday began collecting signatures of their colleagues to force the issue. A governor must call a special session if the majority of the 203-member House and 50-member Senate ask for one.

In prepared remarks released hours after the news conference, Rendell said he would “happily” call a session if petitioned to do so.

“The fall schedule will be a busy one, as the vital issues of energy conservation, utility rate mitigation, and health care are the primary matters we must address,” he wrote. “But, I believe if we dedicate ourselves to work over the summer to try to reach a consensus . . . we can address all of these issues by the end of the year.”

A week ago today, Attorney General Tom Corbett announced criminal counts against a former top House member, 10 Democratic aides and a sitting lawmaker, alleging they conspired to use millions in public funds and resources for political campaign purposes.

Some believe the charges could revive bogged down reform efforts to improve accountability and transparency in Harrisburg that started after the 2005 pay raise debacle.

Dozens of bills have been introduced in the last 18 months dealing with so-called reform efforts. They range from banning gifts to lawmakers to placing limits on campaign donations to abolishing government bonuses. Some of the bills have passed one chamber only to get bottled up in the other, and could be among the agenda items in a special session.

Such sessions are designed to focus lawmakers’ attention on one topic alone and, in theory, to speed the legislative process. In recent years, special sessions have been called to consider legislation dealing with property taxes, drought relief and energy policies.

Some legislators believe the call for a special session on reform is nothing more than a needless headline-grabber.

“If there was the true desire to move on these reform issues we could come back next week and do it,” said Steve Miskin, press secretary to House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson).

Advocates for the special session spoke minutes after another news conference on the topic of reforming Harrisburg wrapped up on the Capitol steps.

A group of 17 Democrats seeking House seats endorsed a slate of policies they dubbed the Pennsylvania Candidate Platform for Reform, or PennCPR. Members of the group pledged, if elected, to cut legislative perks, reduce the influence of lobbyists and increase transparency of campaign funding, among other things.

The agenda, said Paul Drucker, who is running for Chester County’s 157th House seat, is “designed to bring reform efforts off of life support.”

“We are tired of having to explain the embarrassing stories that are coming out of the Capitol,” said Drucker, a Tredyffrin lawyer.

See it on Philly.com.

Number of Views:2806

Inquirer: Double byline on ethics reform rally

BY CHRISTOPHER WINK AND MARIO F. CATABIANI

HARRISBURG – A week after 289 criminal charges were filed in a wide-ranging government corruption probe, a group of lawmakers yesterday called for a special legislative session devoted solely to restoring the public’s faith in Harrisburg.

“There is a crisis of confidence in Pennsylvania. . . . We must respond with action,” said Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin) who was joined by eight other members of the House and Senate who are pushing for a special session dubbed “Governmental and Ethics Reform.”

Said Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D., York), “We are under a dark cloud. . . . We need to get back to the people’s work.”

The group yesterday called on Gov. Rendell to convene such a session beginning in September. Rendell recently made clear he has no plans of doing so on his own, arguing that the legislative agenda for the rest of the year is already crammed with other key bills.

….

Read the rest on Philly.com.

Image of a completely unrelated speaking engagement by Gov. Rendell Chief of Staff Greg Fajt courtesy here.

Number of Views:2486

Saddam Hussein: 29 years since coming to power

What a quick and tumultuous rise to power.

Twenty-nine years ago today in 1979, Saddam Hussein replaced the resigning president of Iraq and went on to further consolidate his power.

It was the beginning of nearly three decades of tickle fights with the international community. In April 2003 he was dislodged from power and on Dec. 30, 2006 he was hanged for charges of genocide.

Number of Views:6324

Inquirer: Plans for rebuilding I-80

This ran today for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The coverage is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association (PLCA).

HARRISBURG – Months before the federal government could approve even a plan to make I-80 a toll road, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission says it knows how it would spend part of the money.

Within a decade, the commission says, it would resurface more than 200 miles of I-80 across northern Pennsylvania – most of which has not been fixed in 30 years.

Additionally, it would replace 62 bridges along I-80 that officials believe are in poor condition or are too low, according to a list of projects unveiled by the commission yesterday.

Read the rest on Philly.com.

Number of Views:2398

A recent addition to Couch Surfing

I HAVE GIVEN IN ON ANOTHER HOLDOUT OF MINE, THIS one on CouchSurfing.com, after catching a lot of flak for recently joining the Facebook, having avoided it throughout university.

One signs up, offers up a couch or a place to sleep in exchange for the same treatment elsewhere. Avoid hotels and even hostels and get a local view of wherever you’re visiting. The most frequent concern is one with safety, and, like I’ve seen with hitchhiking, there is some truth to it, but, more often, there is the opportunity for cheap travel and profound interaction.

In preparation for future travels on a limited income, I thought now was the time to finally get on board with another social networking device online.

Continue reading

Number of Views:4024

Time magazine: Could newspapers be nonprofits?

In a file photo a Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper vending machine is seen in Philadelphia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Could newspapers be nonprofits?

Check this recent Time magazine article:

Enter Pro Publica, a non-profit news organization devoted solely to investigative journalism and funded to the tune of $10 million a year by California-based philanthropists Herb and Marion Sandler. With a staff of 18 journalists (10 additional reporters have yet to begin), the group hopes to release their stories for free through exclusive deals with major media outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic and 60 Minutes, among other potential partners. On June 22, its first major story — about Al Hurra, a U.S.-funded Middle Eastern TV network that has broadcast anti-American propaganda — aired in conjunction with the famed CBS news program. Such an approach has already been criticized by the Miami Herald‘s Edward Wasserman, who inquired July 7, “why was Pro Publica using its philanthropic funding to, essentially, subsidize the cost of a segment for 60 Minutes, the most financially successful news show in the history of U.S. Television?”

Hat tip to Sean Blanda.

Photo courtesy of Day in the Life.

Number of Views:4471

Post-Gazette: Bonus scandal [with my audio]

HARRISBURG — Rachel Manzo was released on her own recognizance yesterday, then returned an hour later to pay $10,000 — all in $20s — to bail her husband out of police custody.

They are among 12 current and former lawmakers and legislative aides charged in a scheme to use tax dollars to fund political campaigns.

The bail for Michael Manzo, who is thought to have orchestrated the plan, was the highest at $100,000 secured, which means he had to put up 10 percent of the money before he could be released.

“I’ve [represented] organized crime figures who didn’t have to pay this much bail,” his attorney, James J. Eisenhower, said while court personnel counted the bills, which Mrs. Manzo brought in 10 envelopes.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Above, hear Philip A. Ignelzi, the attorney for state Rep. Sean Ramaley, discuss the charges against his client and criticize state Attorney General Tom Corbett. Below hear Ignelzi discuss Ramaley’s state Senate campaign.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Read the rest on Post-Gazette.com.

Photo of former Democratic House Leader Mike Veon, courtesy of PennLive.

Number of Views:2677

Post-Gazette: Bonus scandal defendants arraigned

It what may be the most significant story of my young journalism career, here a double byline for a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This breaking story appeared on the Web and an extensive follow up will appear in tomorrow’s edition.

HARRISBURG – Preliminary arraignments were held today for 11 people charged in the state bonus scandal, in which state Rep. Michael Veon, current Rep. Sean Ramaley and 10 current and former Democratic staffers allegedly conspired to divert millions of dollars in state resources, including more than $1 million in illegal pay bonuses.

The charges stem from two grand jury presentments unveiled yesterday in which jurors said Mr. Veon and the staff members conspired to arrange hefty year-end bonuses to House employees who worked on political campaigns over a three-year period. Mr. Ramaley is accused of working full time on his 2004 House campaign in Beaver County while drawing a taxpayer salary as a member of Mr. Veon’s staff.

During the preliminary arraignments, the defendants hear, and are asked if they understand, the charges against them. They do not enter pleas.

The first preliminary arraignment took place yesterday for Jeff Foreman, an aide to House Majority Whip Keith McCall, D-Carbon. Mr. Foreman surrended to authorities even as Attorney General Tom Corbett held a press conference outlining the case. Mr. Foreman, who was charged with conspiracy, theft, and conflict of interest, was released on $50,000 unsecured bail.

Read the rest on Post-Gazette.com.

Image of former House Democratic Leader Mike Veon, D-Beaver Falls, by Bradley C. Bower via Post-Gazette.

Number of Views:2892

Post-Gazette: Legislators, staffers charged in bonus probe [with my audio]

Details of the long-rumored “Bonusgate” scandal dropped this afternoon. I helped a bit with the reporting for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story written by Dennis Roddy and was charged with cutting some audio for the paper’s Web site.

Hear Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett at his 2 P.M. news conference…

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Tom Corbett today filed charges against a dozen figures in the payroll bonus scandal, including former House Democratic Whip Michael Veon and current state Rep. Sean Ramaley.

Reports by two grand juries — one in Pittsburgh and another sitting here — laid out an array of accusations, including a conspiracy to deliver more than $1 million in state-paid bonuses to House employees who worked on political campaigns. Mr. Ramaley, 33, D-Economy, was accused of working full-time on his 2004 House campaign in Beaver County while drawing a taxpayer salary as a member of Mr. Veon’s staff.

Continue reading on Post-Gazete.com. More audio to follow.

Photo by Dennis Roddy, courtesy of the Post-Gazette.

Number of Views:2458

Post-Gazette: Legislator rejects award from White Christian Nation

Here’s a very interesting story by Tracie Mauriello of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on which I contributed some reporting yesterday.

HARRISBURG — An anti-Muslim remark made on the House floor last month inspired some to call state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe a bigot and others to call him intolerant.

One group, though, says it wants to give him an award.

The White Christian Nation compares Mr. Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, to prominent white supremacist leader Thomas Robb and says it wants to give him a Christian National Soldier Award during a rally the group is sponsoring Aug. 10 at Adams Township Community Park.

Mr. Metcalfe denounced the group and said he had never heard of White Christian Nation until it notified him of the award two weeks ago in separate letters signed by John Nayst and Jerry Western.

“I categorically reject any association with you, your organization and Mr. Robb,” Mr. Metcalfe wrote back in a letter dated July 3. “As an Army veteran who had the privilege and honor of serving the United States alongside extremely dedicated men and women of all races, religions and national ancestries, I will not allow my office or my name to be compromised.”

Continue reading here

Photo from Outraged Patriots.

Number of Views:3799