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Pennsylvania legislators spend as if it's their money



Published: Tue, August 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A small Pennsylvania newspaper has taken its state legislator to task in daily editorials for nearly three months over his control of an $11 million slush fund.

According to a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Uniontown Herald-Standard has published an editorial criticizing state Rep. H. William DeWeese every day for 78 days as of Sunday -- 80 counting today.

The crux of the editorial is that DeWeese is not a man of his word, because he pledged while running for re-election last year to open to public scrutiny the fund he controls. He hasn't.

While such a breach of promise is, indeed, a matter that requires a newspaper to take an officeholder to the woodshed, it is, primarily a matter between the Herald-Standard and DeWeese.

Bigger issue: There is, however, a larger issue that demands the attention of every newspaper in the state, and ones such as The Vindicator, which, while not located in Pennsylvania, have a keen interest in the affairs of the Keystone State. That issue is the very existence of a secret cache of taxpayer money that is doled out by political parties with virtually no accountability to the taxpayers.

While a quirk of Pennsylvania law may make such expenditures legal, nothing makes it right.

The Pennsylvania legislature is not the CIA, which can argue that some expenditures are so sensitive that opening them to public view would threaten national security or endanger lives. It is a political body, the members of which are bound by oath to serve the citizens of Pennsylvania.

No secrets: The citizenry clearly is not well served by secret expenditures of tax money.

The money in question is doled out by the majority and minority chairmen of the two parties, so DeWeese, as a Democrat and minority leader, holds one set of purse strings and Rep. John Perzel, the House Republican leader, holds the other set.

The Post-Gazette pointed out that DeWeese has provided some information on how the Democrats spend their allotment, most of which goes for staff salaries and other personnel costs. Perzel has been mum, yet he has taken no heat from the press in his hometown of Philadelphia. He should.

If any part of the $22 million being spent this year is being used to offset what should be expenses of the state Republican and Democratic organizations -- and there is some indication that's the case -- the people have a right to know.

The Uniontown Herald-Standard has uncovered an abuse in Harrisburg that should touch a nerve not only with every editor who abhors government secrecy, but with every taxpayer who hates the idea of a politician being able to spend his money without so much as a how do you do.




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