GOP halts bonus practice

At least $1 million doled out in 2005-06 to legislative aides

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HARRISBURG -- Senate and House Republicans released a long list of employees who got bonuses for legislative work in 2005-06, with one new GOP senator calling for a state audit of all four legislative caucuses to see if any taxpayer money had been used illegally as "political payback'' for campaign work.

Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, who last May upset former Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer in a primary, applauded the new president pro tem, Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, for releasing the two-year list of Senate bonuses and for immediately halting the practice of giving them out.

The bonuses, which weren't made public until yesterday, totaled more than $1 million for about 250 employees over the past two years.

Mr. Eichelberger called for an attorney general audit of the Legislature, "including all leadership accounts in both houses,'' such as the four accounts of $50 million each that are controlled by the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders. They use them for salaries, office rentals, travel and other expenses.

Mr. Eichelberger said he wants Attorney General Tom Corbett "to investigate any possibility of political payback with taxpayer funds for a select group of individuals typically involved in campaign work.''

A Corbett spokesman, Nils Frederiksen, said the office would have to study the senator's request before commenting.

The bonuses "are a perfect example of why I ran for the state Senate and why I'm here fighting for reform,'' said Mr. Eichelberger, a former Blair County commissioner.

The release of the names of bonus recipients by GOP leaders stands in sharp contrast to House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese's refusal to do the same.

He has called the bonuses he gave this month to unnamed House Democratic staffers "an internal personnel matter,'' even though the money came from taxpayer-funded House accounts. In a letter to the recipients, he told them to keep quiet about the bonuses.

Mr. DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, has refused to say who got the money, how many staffers got it or how much the total is. He has insisted the bonuses went for good legislative work, which is legal, and not for political campaign work, which is illegal.

Mr. Scarnati and new Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said they "were not involved in those decisions'' to give bonuses in 2005-06. They said they only recently "became aware that supplemental payments had been awarded in the past to some Senate Republican caucus staff for legislative work. We are ending this practice immediately.''

In releasing the list of bonus recipients, they said, "We are committed to the principle that the public has a right to know how their money is spent.''

The top bonus recipients for the two-year period of 2005-06 included: Mike Long, a top aide to Mr. Jubelirer, who received $41,405; David Atkinson, press secretary for Mr. Jubelirer, $36,278; Senate parliamentarian Mark Corrigan and Chief Clerk Russell Faber each got $35,126 in bonuses; Steve MacNett, GOP legal counsel, $32,801; Donna Malpezzi, an aide to former GOP leader David Brightbill, $33,427; Drew Crompton, legal counsel to Mr. Jubelirer, $30,767; and Erik Arneson, press aide to Mr. Brightbill, $22,480. In all, 47 Senate employees got bonuses in those two years.

House Republican leader Sam Smith also released a long list of GOP staffers who got bonuses in 2005-06 for outstanding legislative work, but he said he plans to continue the practice, where warranted.

The bonuses, for both staff in legislators' district offices and in the Harrisburg office, totaled $649,661 in 2005, decreasing to $269,608 in 2006. More than 200 employees got bonuses.

"In no way is the House bonus plan related to volunteer campaign participation,'' said Smith spokesman Steve Miskin. "That would be illegal, and if it wasn't illegal, it would be just plain wrong. We are rewarding exceptional legislative work for people who have reached their maximum salary cap.''


Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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