Lawmakers Get Special Tax Breaks

Member Group : Democracy Raising PA

Democracy Rising Pennsylvania

WNEP-TV Reports on Special Tax Break for Lawmakers
Tonight, WNEP-TV in Scranton ran its investigative report about a special tax break for lawmakers that allows them to deduct as much as $163 a day from their income for federal tax purposes. Click here for Dave Bohman’s report and here for the Tax Day edition of DR News.
Bonus Scandal Update
The Bonus Scandal continues to keep Dauphin County courts busy with a full but constantly changing schedule of hearings and trials. The changes occur as lawyers for defendants raise pre-trial issues, such as whether Attorney General Tom Corbett is guilty of using his current office to campaign for governor. Although the court ruled he is not, some groups including DR believe we should preclude the possibility by requiring candidates to resign from one office before they campaign for another. See "Resign to Run" below.
Meanwhile, the constant refrain among many defendants is that since "everyone does it," prosecuting only a handful of lawmakers and staff amounts to selective prosecution. In some cases, they go even further to claim that using tax-funded equipment, staff and offices isn’t even illegal.
Ironically, the March 2010 Franklin & Marshall College Poll shows that citizens think these defendants are right in describing how the Capitol Club operates.
Poll Question:"Do you think that most Pennsylvania state legislators use state employees and tax money for political campaign activities, or not?"
Voter Response: 67% yes; 19% no; 14% don’t know.
For those who believe campaigning at taxpayer expense is OK, here’s a portion of the PA Superior Court’s 2007 opinion in the case of former Rep. Jeffrey Habay, R-Allegheny, who was convicted of this crime in 2005, a year before the election that brought us the Bonus Scandal.
"Appellant [Habay] had fair notice and could easily predict that, in his capacity as an elected representative, he was not allowed to direct state-paid employees under his authority to conduct campaign and/or fundraising-related work, during state-paid time, for his personal benefit. Through his actions, Appellant secured a private monetary advantage for himself because, by having state employees work for him on his campaign and/or fund raising tasks while they were being paid by the state, he obtained the benefit of free campaign work funded by the taxpayers. In this same vein, Appellant, by virtue of using state employees, did not have to spend his own money to pay workers involved in such matters. The words of the statute surely allowed Appellant to understand that such conduct was prohibited by law. He could have easily gauged his contemplated actions and predicted they were unlawful."
Commonwealth v. Habay, PA Super 2007, 934 A.2d 732, at page 738.
Even so, that hasn’t prevented defendants Rep. Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, and Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, from claiming that the law is so vague that it should be declared unconstitutional. Both held leadership positions in their caucuses before their arrest required them to resign as House Democratic Whip and Senate Republican Whip respectively.
• Why haven’t the Bonus Scandal defendants who claim "everyone does it" named names? If they know that others are using tax dollars to campaign — and especially if they believe that such activities are legal — why don’t they disclose who else they know has been campaigning with tax money?
"Resign to Run"
Last week, DR participated in a news conference organized by Keystone Progress to advocate for a resign-to-run law for PA. Although the event was focused on asking Attorney General Corbett to resign, DR and took a much broader position: All public officials who decide to run for a different office, including all six candidates for governor, should resign to do so.’s Eric Epstein pointed out that five states — Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii and Texas — do not allow certain public officials to use their positions as a launching pad for other offices.
As Epstein put it, "How many private employers pay their employees to look for another job on the company clock?" And "You can’t claim you’re working a full-time job on behalf of the people while simultaneously running a full-time campaign on behalf of yourself."
Click here for Epstein’s full statement and here for the statement by DR’s Tim Potts.

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