In the midst of the Bonusgate trial and its conclusion questions remain about Representative Todd Eachus's role concerning the use of taxpayer funds for campaign purposes. Eachus has denied involvement, maintained that he cooperated in the investigation, refused to speak before the grand jury when given the opportunity, and his spokesperson stated he never was interviewed. All of those statements should not coexist in the same sentence.
Mark Scoloforo of the Associated Press wrote an interesting article at Pittsburghlive.com.
..the facts that have emerged so far strongly suggest that the line between campaign work and legitimate legislative business has been kept blurry in Harrisburg, and that many of the people who have benefited may never pay much of a price for it.
That is where the speeches, parades and pancake breakfasts come in. Along with the usual topics — highway projects, the state budget, property taxes and national political issues — voters might want to ask their local state representatives and senators a few questions about the scandal that has become known as "bonusgate."
Here are a few suggestions from someone who has followed the investigation since its inception and spent the past two months in the Veon trial courtroom:
• The investigation: Did your name turn up in any of the four grand jury reports, or during the trial of Veon or Rep. Sean Ramaley, a Beaver County Democrat acquitted in December?
• Campaign policies: Do you allow your underlings to work on your campaigns? What rules are in place to make sure they properly account for any campaign time? What efforts do you make to ensure they don't feel pressured to "volunteer" to electioneer for you? Do you maintain a separate campaign office? Does anyone on the state government payroll serve as your campaign manager or treasurer? Have you changed your campaign policies in response to the bonusgate scandal?
• Legislative staff: How many state employees work for you, even those whose supervisors are technically the caucus leader? What are the duties of each? How much compensatory time off did they accrue over the past several years? Did any receive bonuses the Attorney General's Office considers to have been rewards for campaign work, and if so, should they have to return the money? Do you make your Harrisburg staff remain on duty, no matter what, on nights when your chamber is in session?
• Mailings: How often have you sent out mass mailings to people in your district on the taxpayer's dime? Have you tended to send them out as near to the election as the rules allow?
• Per diems: Do you accept them? Have you ever collected a per diem the same day you've consumed a taxpayer-paid breakfast, lunch or dinner? Do you support changing the rules to ban that type of double-dipping?
• Legal fees: Do you support your caucus' use of taxpayer money to provide legal representation to members and employees in the public corruption investigation? Have you obtained legal advice regarding the investigation, and did taxpayers pay for it?
• Nepotism: Should there be restrictions on hiring relatives to work for the Legislature?
Harrisburg's political culture brings to mind the cliche about everyone complaining about the weather, but not doing anything about it. Voters who want to see changes in their General Assembly this year might start by asking a few questions.
Eachus has repeatedly refused to answer media questions surrounding the proposed Hazleton cargo airport and his relationship with Robert Powell. Is there a link between the campaign contributions and the effort to secure airport funding? How many trips were provided on the Powell jet? Are there any other perks that taxpayers would be interested in knowing about? Since Powell is no longer associated with the project why did you drop the effort to bring those jobs to our area?
When voters from the 116th see him on the street pick a question from this list or the one above. Jot down his response or lack thereof.
Eachus boasts about the effort he orchestrated to bring about the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections. He should explain to the voters how he separated himself from convicted felon Michael Veon concerning the workings of legislative staff in campaign efforts and taxpayer money used to pay for their time spent on same.
Finally if Robert Powell wore a wire did he only tape judges or were there others? That's not a question for Mr. Eachus. That one is for law enforcement to answer.