Cloud over the House: The Democrats should have removed DeWeese

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The ongoing investigation into that other bonus scandal, the one involving the Pennsylvania Legislature, has not been kind to House Democrats.

While all four caucuses have come in for scrutiny from the state attorney general, it's the Democratic operation in the House of Representatives that paid out the most and the biggest bonuses -- by far -- to staff suspected of doing political work.

Last July a state grand jury indicted former Rep. Michael Veon (the caucus' one-time No. 2 leader), then-Rep. Sean Ramaley and 10 then or former Democratic staff members in a culture of corruption that channeled millions of dollars in state resources to political purposes, including $1.9 million in illegal pay bonuses in 2006.

The cases have not come to trial and the probe continues. Meanwhile, the House Democratic leadership changed in January, with one major exception. Rep. Bill DeWeese of Waynesburg, who was the caucus' supreme leader during the pay scandal, was bumped down to majority whip -- No. 3 -- by a vote of House Democrats. Hardly a punitive fall from grace.

While Mr. DeWeese has not been charged and maintains he was unaware of any political use of state resources, we and others said the House Democrats should have purged him from leadership, at the very least for not having control of what went on under his nose. They didn't and so a cloud still hangs over the caucus.

That cloud darkened last week when reports said several brief e-mail messages have surfaced, suggesting that Mr. DeWeese may have known public funds had gone to House aides for political work. In three cases, staff members sent a message to Mr. DeWeese's e-mail account to thank him for a pay bonus. Each employee received a short e-mail reply from the DeWeese account telling them that they were welcome.

An aide to Mr. DeWeese said he doesn't remember the e-mails, that other staff members responded to Mr. DeWeese's e-mail and that many staffers thanked Mr. DeWeese for small, legitimate holiday bonuses for state work. Mr. DeWeese said, in fact, that it was lawyers for his caucus who turned over the e-mails to investigators because he wants the probe to follow its course.

So should all Pennsylvanians. But, meanwhile, the representative's continued presence in the top tier of leadership does the Democrats no favors.


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