Bonus pay spread over party lines in state Legislature

Records show other caucuses rewarded employees who did campaign work

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HARRISBURG -- New evidence is emerging that House Democrats used taxpayer-funded bonuses to pay employees for campaign work, but they aren't the only ones who made questionable use of bonuses last year.

Campaign filings and state payroll records show that other legislative caucuses also gave large bonuses to employees who did extensive campaign work, including one who was on state payroll for only half the year.

Spokesmen for all caucuses say the bonuses were rewards for legislative work, not campaign work, which would be illegal. Still, most recipients of large bonuses worked on re-election efforts.

Among House Republicans, Brian Preski, former chief of staff to the former speaker, John Perzel, was reimbursed more than $160,000 for expenses related to his boss's campaign, including $40,000 in salary. He received a $16,474 bonus at taxpayer expense.

In the Senate Democratic caucus, Stephen M. DeFrank received a $4,000 bonus, one of the largest in that caucus, even though he only worked for the Legislature the last six months of the year. During the same period, he did extensive work for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, election receipts show.

In the Senate Republican caucus, top aide Mike Long received a $22,500 bonus even though he reduced his state hours to part-time during the first half of the year while he ran former Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer's unsuccessful primary campaign.

The connection between campaigning and extra pay appears strongest in the House Democratic caucus, which gave $1.9 million in bonuses -- more than the other three caucuses combined. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette uncovered evidence in e-mail messages showing that, in some cases, bonuses in that caucus were based on the amount of campaign work staffers did during the year.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett has said he is investigating all four caucuses to learn whether tax dollars were used to subsidize campaigns, but so far he appears focused on House Democrats.

House Republicans


House GOP leaders gave 39 bonuses last year, including at least 10 to staffers who worked on campaigns.

Caucus spokesman Steve Miskin said campaign work had no bearing on bonuses. All 39 recipients had reached the top of their salary scales and the caucus has a long-standing written policy to give bonuses to staffers who aren't eligible for raises, he said.

Still, an examination of campaign receipts shows that recipients of the highest bonuses also were among the most active in campaigns.

Mr. Preski, the House Republicans' most active campaigner, received a bonus equal to 10 percent of his salary, the maximum percentage allowed in the caucus.

Receipts provided by the Friends of John Perzel Campaign Committee show extensive campaign involvement including trips to New York, San Diego, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, N.J., Pittsburgh and Pasadena, Calif. Locally, he arranged fund-raisers, attended numerous meetings and bought gifts for campaign volunteers.

Mr. Preski said his workdays often lasted from dawn until midnight so he could fit in both legislative and political work. He said he often worked 60 hours at his state job, then spent nights and weekends campaigning.

"If you work real hard you can do it," Mr. Preski said from Philadelphia, where is now works as a lawyer. "We were all very diligent so that all of our state work was accomplished and done properly before we did any campaign work."

He would not discuss specifics of the $160,000 reimbursement, but a source familiar with the campaign said that total includes money Mr. Preski fronted to pay for hotel rooms, travel costs, meals and other expenses for other Perzel campaign volunteers.

Records from the House Republican Campaign Committee, meanwhile, show extensive campaign involvement by staffers from other offices, including John Hanley, caucus director of the house Legislative Management Committee and recipient of an $8,512 bonus, equal to 10 percent of his salary. Mr. Hanley's campaign work involved numerous overnight trips to Allegheny and Chester counties, during which he racked up nearly $8,700 in expenses.

One of Mr. Hanley's campaign tasks is to check poll results and reallocate manpower to races where more is needed, said Al Bowman, a legislative policy aide and spokesman for the House Republican Campaign Committee.

Mr. Bowman said Mr. Hanley reduced his state hours -- and his state pay -- to give him time for campaign work. Several other caucus staffers did the same.

"What we've done is figure out a way to ensure taxpayer resources aren't being spent on the political side in any way shape or form," Mr. Bowman said.

Still, he reasoned, there are likely occasions in every caucus when a campaign phone call is made on state time or an e-mail message is inadvertently sent from a state computer.

"We're all human and at some point along the way we make mistakes, but [in the House Republican caucus] we're all pretty good at making sure political work ... isn't done on state time," he said. "If somebody tells us what we're doing isn't exactly right, we'll get stricter."

Senate Democrats


Anthony Lepore, chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow, received his full salary last year, but still found the time to travel 5,724 miles on campaign business for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. On top of his $147,000 salary, he received a $5,000 bonus last year, the largest in the caucus.

Robert J. Kline also collected his full $96,000 salary last year even though he spent extensive time on campaign business in West Chester and State College, traveling 6,942 miles along the way. He received a $4,000 bonus.

Mr. Lepore and Mr. Kline were among 11 caucus staffers who received bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $4,000. At least seven of those bonus recipients worked on Senate races, campaign receipts show. Thirty-five other caucus staffers who worked on campaigns did not receive bonuses.

Caucus spokesman Charlie Tocci said bonus determinations were based on legislative work alone. The payments went to employees who did extraordinary work, took on additional work responsibilities or worked an extraordinary amount of night and weekend hours, he said.

In some cases, however, all that extra work still left plenty of time for campaigning.

"I did a decent amount of campaign work, no doubt about it. It was on evenings and weekends and I was still putting in 50 to 60 hours on my regular job," Mr. Lepore said.

Mr. DeFrank, a longtime state employee, left the Legislature in 2005 for a stint as legislative liaison for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. He returned to the House in July 2006 and by year's end qualified for a $4,000 bonus, even though he spent much of the fall away from Harrisburg campaigning while still being paid his $85,000 state salary.

Records show he spent nearly every weekday in October in the Philadelphia region, spending at least 13 nights in hotels that month alone. In November, his cell phone bill included $1,002 worth of campaign-related calls for a single month.

Mr. DeFrank and Mr. Kline referred questions to Mr. Tocci.

"Caucus employees who volunteer for campaigns either go off payroll, do that kind of work on evenings or weekends, or they use accumulated personal time," Mr. Tocci said.

Unlike House employees, Senate workers cannot accumulate compensatory time.

Asked how Mr. DeFrank was eligible for a bonus after six months' work when hundreds of other employees who worked a full year got no bonuses, Mr. Tocci said the payment reflected "extra hours worked in his new position as senior staff, as well as his expertise on gaming issues."

Senate Republicans


The Republican caucus last year -- then led by Mr. Jubelirer and ousted Majority Leader David Brightbill of Lebanon -- gave 16 bonuses ranging from $442 to $22,500. Records reveal moderate to extensive campaign involvement by four of the recipients and marginal involvement by four others who each received single reimbursements of less than $100 for expenses such as mileage.

Mike Long and Drew Crompton, former top aides to Mr. Jubelirer, were the most active campaigners and received some of the largest bonuses.

Mr. Crompton, whose salary is $101,500, was on state payroll for less than seven months last year, but still received a $19,467 bonus. He spent the rest of the year running Lynn Swann's gubernatorial campaign.

Meanwhile, Mr. Long, who received a $22,500 bonus, was a core campaigner for Senate incumbents and controlled access to one of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee's three credit cards as well as to one for Mr. Jubelirer's campaign committee. He traveled extensively to Altoona and spent 12 nights in hotels there between January and the May primary when he attended numerous meetings and fund-raisers.

He received $21,700 in salary from the Senate Republican Campaign Committee for that work, all the while remaining on state payroll, too.

Mr. Long, who gained a reputation as a master political strategist while overseeing day-to-day operations inside the Republican caucus, said the limited number of payroll bonuses within that caucus is clear evidence that nothing amiss was going on with his group.

"The Senate Republican caucus was very careful when people worked on campaigns that they would go off the payroll," Mr. Long said. "We had discussions with staff and caucus members over the years to be very clear that during campaigns people should leave the payroll if they were going for protracted periods of time and get their reimbursements from campaign funds."

Pay bonuses in the Senate are based on recommendations of an outside compensation study conducted several years ago, he said.

"In that study, merit payments referred to in the media as bonuses were recommended. It was through that study that bonuses were granted in the Senate," Mr. Long said.


Tracie Mauriello can be reached at tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141. Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.


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