Monday, January 04, 2010

The Next Big Maryland Scandal?

State prosecutors are currently running wild in Pennsylvania in pursuit of one of the biggest political scandals in that state’s recent history. Their counterparts just across their southern border have plenty of places to look if they ever become interested in the same issue.

The Associated Press recently reported that Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett has charged 25 people, including two former House Speakers, with “illegally using taxpayer-paid employees to perform campaign work.” The article said this about former Speaker and current House majority whip Bill DeWeese:

According to Mr. Corbett, Mr. DeWeese is said to have employed a legislative staff member in the Capitol from 2001 to 2007 primarily to raise campaign money. Kevin Sidella testified under a grant of immunity that he raised millions of dollars for Mr. DeWeese's political campaigns while being paid by taxpayers, Mr. Corbett said.

Sidella recounted an occasion when he raised concerns to DeWeese about the political nature of his own work, the grand jury wrote. DeWeese responded that “our saving grace is that everyone does it.”

The grand jury report also said Mr. DeWeese’s former chief of staff, Mike Manzo, testified that Mr. DeWeese had no campaign apparatus outside his state-paid staff. The report said his employees circulated nominating petitions, sent out campaign mailings, organized campaign events and canvassed door to door, often during the workday and from legislative offices.
This conduct is an obvious abuse of state ethics laws prohibiting government employees from engaging in political work on government time. But the potential for this is not limited to Pennsylvania as Maryland is full of political supporters on government payrolls.

Remember former Marilyn Praisner staffer Joy Nurmi? She was caught by the Post meeting with Don Praisner’s campaign manager during work hours and her private phone number and email address were listed on Mr. Praisner’s campaign website. She is far from alone. Consider these examples from Rockville and Annapolis:

One office holder’s Chief of Staff is that person’s campaign Chair and political strategist. One legislator’s Chief of Staff also serves as campaign Treasurer, while another’s office manager is also that person’s Treasurer. Another office holder hired a campaign volunteer as a legislative aide. Still another politician has referred to an office staffer as a “Finance Director” in a recent fundraising email. More than one politician’s office is primarily staffed by former campaign workers and volunteers. And at least one statewide politician rewarded a campaign volunteer with a high-ranking staff position right after winning election.

Finally, one County Council staffer who is running for the House of Delegates called a press conference on a council work day to discuss matters connected to her candidacy.

Why are we not naming more names? Some of the above individuals are no doubt strictly segregating their government and political activities in compliance with the law. But others may not be so scrupulous. What is clear is that both Rockville and Annapolis are awash with campaign officers, staffers, volunteers and other political supporters on government payrolls. Without an investigation, there is no way to tell what they are really doing on the public’s dime.

When there’s this much smoke, there’s bound to be fire somewhere. If Maryland authorities ever choose to look into this, how many politicians will get burned?