Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bonusgate heats up

The Associated Press is reporting today that state investigators raided the offices of top Democratic Legislative leaders as part of the ongoing grand jury investigation of how millions of dollars in tax dollars were given to legislative staffers in the form of bonuses. If the investigation leads to indictments of top Democratic leaders in the House, it could tip the balance of power in Harrisburg. Stay tuned.

The original story about the raids came from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Here's the AP's version:

Paper: House Democratic offices searched in probe of bonuses

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — State investigators looking into whether legislative employees were improperly used for campaign purposes searched the House Democratic Office of Legislative Research last week and seized records, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The Aug. 23 search was part of a probe into the activities of former state Rep. Michael Veon, D-Beaver, and whether public funds were spent on campaigns while Veon was the second-ranking House Democrat, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The paper, citing unnamed sources, said Veon and other Democratic activists, state workers and ex-lawmakers are being investigated by a grand jury.

State prosecutors have said the probe focuses on nearly $4 million that legislative staffers in both parties received in 2005 and 2006. House Democrats, who reclaimed control of the chamber in the 2006 election, awarded $2.4 million in bonuses, most of it handed out in the election year.

Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the attorney general, declined to comment on the search. He said his agency is investigating House and Senate legislative staff work by both parties, including the House Democratic research department.

"We are conducting an investigation into bonuses paid to legislative staff members, to determine whether the bonuses were paid for campaign work or for legitimate legislative business," Harley said Thursday.

Veon, the former Democratic whip who opened a lobbying firm after losing re-election last year, did not immediately respond to an e-mail and phone message left by The Associated Press at his Harrisburg office on Thursday.

He said in February his caucus' employees' bonuses were granted in "a very proper and legal way" and were not related to campaign work.

An aide to House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, referred a request for comment to caucus lawyers, who did not immediately respond Thursday.

House Republicans have said they followed a written policy in awarding bonuses and that none were given out for campaign activities. Senate Republicans, under new leadership, announced Jan. 31 they were halting the bonuses, and the other three caucuses followed suit shortly afterward.

The job responsibilities for legislative employees often include boosting lawmakers' public images or analyzing politically sensitive issues — work that has obvious value to a campaign — but Harley said it is illegal to campaign on state time, or use public equipment to do so.

In February 2006, state Rep. Jeff Habay, R-Allegheny, resigned after being sentenced to six to 12 months in jail for having aides perform campaign work on state time.

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