HARRISBURG -- House Democratic Leader H. William DeWeese keeps insisting he knew nothing about bonuses given to his employees for campaign work, but his Republican counterpart is doubtful.
"I find it questionable that certain alleged activities -- some of which he admitted to -- could have taken place without him knowing," Republican Leader Sam Smith told Capitol reporters yesterday.
"As big as that [bonus] program was they operated, I have difficulty believing he didn't know about it."
The Democratic caucus doled out $1.9 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses last year.
E-mail messages recently obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette show that a cadre of staffers determined bonus amounts according to the amount of time employees spent on campaign work.
It is illegal to use state funds to pay for campaign work and state Attorney General Tom Corbett is investigating through the grand jury.
Mr. DeWeese said he initially thought the bonuses totalled $400,000 and that he didn't know his aides developed a system to award bonuses according to campaign work.
He fired seven employees last month after an internal investigation turned up the e-mails and handed over the messages to state prosecutors investigating the use of bonuses.
Mr. DeWeese said last evening that he would not respond to Mr. Smith's comments.
Meanwhile, Mr. DeWeese has been making the rounds to newspaper editorial boards statewide, stressing that he didn't know bonuses were tied to campaign work until the e-mail messages surfaced.
Either way, he can't escape blame, Mr. Smith said.
"As leader, you have to take responsibility, whether you resign or try to justify it or whatever," he said.
Mr. Smith's caucus gave bonuses last year, too. They totalled $270,000 and were given, in accordance with caucus policy, only to those who had reached the top of their pay scales.
They were "categorically, no ifs ands or buts" not rewards for campaign work, said Mr. Smith, who signed off on all of them.
"It would a appear to be a little different on the other side of the aisle."
A review by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette turned up dozens of Democratic House employees whose bonuses may have been tied to campaign work.
Some of those employees spent weeks away from their state jobs on campaign work, and some of them continued on the state payroll during that time and received bonuses.
Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate also paid bonuses, but they were smaller amounts to less employees.
Mr. Corbett also is investigating those bonuses.
Tracie Mauriello can be reached at email@example.com or 717-787-2141.