HARRISBURG -- Activist Gene Stilp is asking Commonwealth Court to stop House Democrats from using more than $1 million in public funds to defend themselves from "Bonusgate" charges filed by Attorney General Tom Corbett.
So far, House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese has spent at least $1.4 million in taxpayers' money to defend members of his caucus against charges filed by Mr. Corbett in July, Mr. Stilp claimed in a lawsuit filed yesterday.
He said he had asked state Treasurer Robin Wiessmann to cease paying the House Democrats' legal bills, which Democrats insist are justified. But the treasurer has taken no action on his request, Mr. Stilp said, so he has gone to Commonwealth Court.
He is asking the court to stop the treasurer from making any further payments. He also wants the court to order House Democrats to repay to the state treasury for the legal fees already paid out. Named as defendants in Mr. Stilp's suit are Mr. DeWeese and Ms. Wiessmann.
Mr. DeWeese hasn't been charged in the probe and has insisted he did nothing wrong. His press secretary, Tom Andrews, called the effort by Mr. Stilp "one more frivolous lawsuit" and said Democrats might ask the court to order him to pay their costs if they win.
Mr. Corbett has filed charges against the former No. 2 House Democrat, Mike Veon of Beaver County, plus Rep. Sean Ramaley, D-Beaver, and 10 current or former Democratic House staffers. The attorney general, a Republican, contended that House Democratic employees received at least $1.2 million in illegal bonuses for political work during political campaigns in 2006. Mr. Corbett has said his investigation is continuing and more people could be charged.
Mr. Stilp said that House Democrats should give back to taxpayers the $1.4 million in legal fees spent so far and the $1.2 million in illegal bonuses.
Mr. Stilp said that according to news reports, the other three legislative caucuses have spent money on legal fees also, but no charges have been filed so far by Mr. Corbett against anyone other than House Democrats.
House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said that $170,909 has been spent in legal fees for House Republican staffers, and the cost could rise.
Harrisburg Bureau chief Tom Barnes can be reached at email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254.