The op-ed below was originally published in The Mercury.
End pay-to-play cronyism in Harrisburg
By Rep. Doug Reichley
As the 2007-2008 legislative session concludes, reformers in Harrisburg can list few true accomplishments that have fundamentally altered the atmosphere in Harrisburg. We failed to restrict cronyism and end "pay-to-play," two aspects of an old boy network that continues to run rampant in the halls of the Capitol.
In late September, state Reps. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), Glen Grell (R-Cumberland), Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery) and I introduced a package of bills, along with legislation previously introduced by Rep. Craig Dally (R-Northampton), to end the "Pay-to-Play" mindset that has descended on Harrisburg during the Rendell administration. However, House Democrats turned their backs on this attempt at sweeping reform of blatant governmental abuses.
What were we trying to accomplish with this legislation? Over the last two years, the governor has utilized loopholes in state laws regulating how contracts for the purchase of goods and professional services are issued. Simply put, our legislation sought to prevent the governor from awarding lucrative no-bid contracts to political supporters and former associates.
The first glaring example of this was revealed last year with the award of a contract for more than $1 million to the governor's former law firm Ballard Spahr under the "emergency provisions" of the procurement code. Taxpayers footed the bill for legal work to write the law which would have imposed tolls on the I-80 federal highway and increased the very unpopular Pittsburgh drink tax. Not only was this contract improper in light of the dozens of lawyers employed by the governor, the Department of Transportation, and the four legislative caucuses, but there was not anything resembling an "emergency" to justify the award of this no-bid contract to the law firm which currently employs the governor's former chief of staff, former deputy chief of staff, and the husband of the woman the governor chose as State Treasurer.
The governor's questionable no-bid handouts also resulted in a computer systems company winning the contract for a data powerhouse with the Department of General Services. This contract was extended without allowing competitors to bid on the contract, which is worth more than $4 million. This no-bid award was justified on the grounds it was in "the best interest of the Commonwealth," even though there were other service providers who wanted to submit a bid on the project, but they never found out about this opportunity until after the contract was extended.
Finally, the no-bid reward process hit a new low this year when the governor's Office of General Counsel gave a contract without competitive bidding to a Texas law firm to handle a lucrative lawsuit on behalf of the Commonwealth against a drug manufacturer. This same firm donated $26,000 to the governor's last campaign in 2006, provided the use of a personal jet worth $14,000, and donated another $10,000 to the Democratic Governors Association which happened to be headed by Rendell at the time. Was this just a coincidence?
These are not just petty examples of the unbridled use of power in the Capitol. Attorney General Tom Corbett has uncovered allegations of the assignment of contracts worth millions of dollars by both House caucuses which were awarded on a no-bid basis. Our legislation would be an important step to improve transparency in the operations of state government, but would also result in savings to taxpayers by obtaining competitive bids from prospective vendors.
We attached three of our bills as amendments to a procurement code bill on the House calendar, but House Democrats led my Majority Leader Bill DeWeese ignored these good government measures at a time when people have had it with the cronyism in Harrisburg.
DeWeese and House Democrats shunned the outcry to clean up Harrisburg in the most substantive way in the last two years. Based on this record, does anyone really believe Rep. DeWeese and the House Democrats can be leaders for reform in the Capitol.
State Rep. Doug Reichley is a Republican who represents the 134th House District in Berks and Lehigh counties.