by Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester County)
Pennsylvania is no stranger to public corruption. Whether for personal or political gain, the Commonwealth’s history of public corruption dates back to the 1800s. In the past four decades alone, there have been numerous scandals involving ghost employees, job selling, sexual offenses, cover-ups and kickbacks for lucrative state contracts – otherwise known as “pay-to-play.” Bonusgate, the Luzerne County “Kids for Cash” scandal, and the licensing of casino owners with criminal backgrounds provide the latest examples of government bodies that have allegedly demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to appropriately police themselves.
Public corruption was so prevalent during the administration of Gov. Milton Shapp that in 1976 the U.S. Department of Justice labeled Pennsylvania the most corrupt state in the nation. Today, the public’s faith in government leaders from the top down is at an all-time low. Scandals and public corruption are calling into question government’s ability to do the people’s business and to effectively guard against public corruption.
Such arrogance and irresponsibility undermine the integrity of all government officials, including the majority who are attempting to protect the interest of Pennsylvania citizens and the taxpayers of this Commonwealth. The culture of corruption that has pervaded the state Capitol looms heavily over the heads of lawmakers and public officials who stand in the shadow of those convicted of, or implicated in, various crimes.
Because the safeguards now in place are clearly not sufficient, I am proposing legislation to establish a Public Integrity Commission. Under House Bill 1200, an independent commission would be created with professional staff that would be responsible for monitoring and investigating the actions of public officials in all three branches of state government and at all levels. It would determine whether public officials are engaging in unlawful activity in connection with the public office they hold or for which they work, and refer such cases to the attorney general and county district attorneys for criminal prosecution.
The Public Integrity Commission would be staffed by professional law enforcement agents and have full investigatory authority including subpoena power, the granting of immunity and ability to compel testimony.
A nominating committee comprised of law school deans, a district attorney and a government reform advocate would be charged with nominating the 15 people from whom the governor would select seven commission members. These members would then be subject to Senate confirmation. No more than three members of the commission could be of the same political party.
Recent scandals involving the misuse of taxpayer resources for political gain, questions about the administration of judicial discipline, concerns about state laws granting exclusive jurisdiction to the state Supreme Court in casino licensing and other gambling matters, and the recent indictments and convictions of leading House and Senate figures suggest our present system is not working and more needs to be done.
I believe the Public Integrity Commission will strengthen Pennsylvania’s ability to fight government corruption and restore the public’s trust in its elected leaders. Self-policing has not worked. It’s time for meaningful action.
Photo by AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY-PA
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