Philadelphia Inquirer reporters John Sullivan and Mario F. Cattabiani are reporting that Senator Bob Mellow from Lackawanna County has been the recipient of $200,000.00 of Pennsylvania taxpayer money for rent on a building owned by him and/or his then wife, now former wife.
Mellow appears to have some ethical questions to answer concerning this deal according to the details laid out in the article.
When the General Assembly passed the Ethics Act in 1978, it created the State Ethics Commission to interpret the law. Public officials frequently ask the commission about possible conflicts.
In 1989, a state representative from Erie named Italo S. Cappabianca asked the commission if the law would allow him to rent a district office, using taxpayer money, in a building he owned. He would pay the prevailing rates.
The commission said no.
Mellow said he saw no ethics problems when his wife was an owner. Once he acquired a stake in the property after the divorce, he said, he realized he had a "problem," reported it, and began taking steps to sell the property.
"If I thought I had done something inappropriate back in 2000, I never would have made the declaration in 2006, to expose myself," he said.
Though Mellow acquired his interest in the building in 2007, he did not report the Brad Inc. acquisition until the spring of 2008. That was the deadline to report financial activity from the previous year.
In his defense of the rental agreement with a company his wife partly owned, Mellow cited a Senate resolution - routinely passed by the chamber dating back to the early 1980s - that appears to contradict the state ethics law.
The resolution says that if a senator rents an office from himself or a family member, the Senate clerk must obtain an appraisal.
The State Ethics Commission has never considered whether the resolution, passed only by the Senate, somehow allows senators to do something banned under a state law.
Bruce Ledewitz, a professor of constitutional law at Duquesne University, said the resolution is irrelevant to the rental question.
"I can't say if this is a violation. I can just tell you that if it is, the resolution has nothing to do with it," he said.
I just added one more Democrat to my list at the right. And another reason to support newspapers by buying one or two or three. I do.