Campaign 2006: Opponent questions Ruffing's 'donation'

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Doubts are being raised about state Rep. Ken Ruffing's claim that he donated money from last year's pay raise to an unidentified autism society in Pittsburgh.

Four Pittsburgh-area autism groups said yesterday they had never received a donation from Mr. Ruffing, who is running for re-election in Tuesday's Democratic primary and faces a difficult contest in the 38th District against two challengers, C.L. "Jay" Jabbour and William Kortz.

Mr. Ruffing, a West Mifflin Democrat, "didn't give anything to us," said Daniel Torisky of the Autism Society of America's Pittsburgh chapter.

"We've never accepted a cent of government money," Mr. Torisky said. "We raise our money privately" with a golf tournament sponsored by sportscaster Myron Cope and other fund-raising events.

Officials from Autism Link in McCandless and from ABOARD, the Advisory Board on Autism and Related Disorders, based in Etna, said the same.

"I'm positive we didn't get any money from Rep. Ruffing," said Cindy Waeltermann of Autism Link.

Lisa Vinck, president of the Westmoreland County chapter of the Autism Society of America, also said she didn't get any contributions from Mr. Ruffing.

He declined to return several phone calls from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette late last month and again yesterday seeking documentation of the donation.

He told the newspaper in late April that he'd donated the pay raise money to an autism group because one of his children has the neurological disorder, which can cause behavioral and communication problems.

The Post-Gazette was unable to reach officials at four other autism groups, the Autism Society's Butler County and Harrisburg chapters, its national headquarters in Maryland, and the National Association for Autism Research in Pittsburgh, which is holding a fund-raising walk June 3.

Mr. Torisky said that if Mr. Ruffing donated to a charity "without verifying that the money is going to benefit at least someone in his constituency, he might as well have kept it himself."

The state Legislature approved 16 percent to 34 percent pay raises for itself just after midnight July 7, without hearings or debate. The action increased the salary of rank-and-file legislators, including Mr. Ruffing, to $81,000, from $69,000.

Mr. Ruffing and a number of other legislators accepted the extra pay -- about $4,000 -- for four months, starting Aug. 1, before it was repealed in mid-November because of public outcry. He voted for the repeal but kept the additional funds.

Legislators weren't allowed to accept the additional compensation as actual raises because the state constitution bars them from taking raises in midterm. So they called them "unvouchered expenses" -- expense money for which no receipts had to be given.

Although he didn't give the money back to the state, Mr. Ruffing said he had donated it to an autism charity.

He was criticized yesterday by one of his challengers, Mr. Jabbour, 73, a former West Mifflin borough councilman and Allegheny County councilman.

"It appears he is lying about giving the money to charity," Mr. Jabbour said. "No one from the autism society or other autism-related charities and organizations we contacted had ever heard of Ken Ruffing.

"His pathetic attempt to mask his greed by lying about giving his cut of the midnight pay raise to the autism society is simply disgusting."

The 38th District, which Mr. Ruffing has represented for eight years, includes Dravosburg, Glassport, Liberty, Pleasant Hills, Port Vue and parts of West Mifflin, Baldwin Borough and McKeesport.


Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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