In 1980 the Pennsylvania Legislature made the Attorney General’s office an elected position. The theory held that an elected Attorney General would be independent and free of politics and outside influence. The theory and reality of an apolitical Attorney General’s Office proved to be a naive proposition.
A steady drumbeat of Republican’s candidates has controlled the Office and used it as a political stepping stone. Ernie Preate, Mike Fisher, and Tom Corbett all ran for Governor. Leroy Zimmerman, the first elected Attorney General, used the office to become one of Pennsylvania’s most influential lobbyists.
Tom Corbett was an unknown political commodity prior to his brief appointment as Attorney General from 1995-96 finishing the convicted Preate’s term. Corbett slipped back into anonymity until he was the elected Attorney General in 2004. His second tour of duty was unassuming until the late night Pay Raise of July 7, 2005. In the aftermath of the late night pay jacking, Mr. Corbett was applauded for prosecuting theft of services in the legislature. Mr. Corbett’s signature statement as Attorney General was taking down former House Speakers’ Bill DeWeese and John Perzel. In fact, he likely would not be Governor if it were not for Bonusgate.
Rock the Capital has published a five part series that focused on Tom Corbett’s missteps and poor fiscal over sight as Attorney General.
The series was one year in the making and touched-off by Tom Kimmett’s 2008 lawsuit. The exposé painstakingly pointed out how Gov. Corbett mismanaged the Financial Enforcement Section of the Attorney General’s Office, and his “chain of command” to suppress findings of fraud and tax abuse.
Mr. Corbett’s performance as Attorney General is a mixed bag that includes selective prosecution of legislative chambers and a gaping failure to police his own staff. Moreover, Mr. Corbett’s response to Mr. Kimmett’s lawsuit has the potential to weaken much-needed “Whistle Blower” protections.
Mr. Corbett’s lieutenants recruited Tom Kimmett to clean up and reform the Finance Service Section of the Attorney General’s Office. Yet the same inner circle that sought out Mr. Kimmett conspired to suppress his findings of fact when Kimmett exposed long-standing practices of mismanagement and tax abuse. Corbett’s inner-circle, many of whom serve Governor Corbett, understood the political ramifications of Mr. Kimmett’s findings and were motivated to remain silent because the Attorney General’s Office has become so politicized. Former Attorney General and Republican king maker Leroy Zimmerman, an important and necessary ally for Corbett to become Governor intimidated those same lieutenants to keep practices unchanged.
Corbett’s decided indifference, mismanagement, self-serving politics, and perhaps corruption in the Attorney Generals Office raise questions that need to be answered:
- What is the difference between “pay to play” and tax breaks for well connected deadbeat taxpayers?
- What is the difference between Tom Corbett’s Retired in Place (“RIP”) Republican employees and Democratic legislative staffers being paid by taxpayers to perform political work?
- If Mr. Corbett and the Attorney General’s Office can gag a high-level whistleblower, what protections are available to civil servants and governmental employees who report abuse, fraud, and waste?
We do not know the total financial toll for Pennsylvania taxpayers. Millions of dollars were lost in sleazy settlement deals and unearned commissions. Mr. Corbett refused to conduct an outside and independent audit, and failed to adopt Best Management Practices neighboring states have put in place.
In his deposition on March 11, 2010, Corbett said, “I don’t recall”, “I can’t recollect”, “I don’t have a recollection”, “I have no knowledge,” in response to 35 questions. The citizens of Pennsylvania deserve more from the State’s highest law enforcement official. It is hard to believe that Mr. Corbett was unaware of a department under his control responsible for millions of taxpayer dollars.
There is little oversight of the Attorney General. The Office has been a one-party monopoly for 32 years, and created and perpetrated a culture where gross mismanagement and wrongdoing flourished. When Mr. Kimmett uncovered these problems, he was told he did not understand the “culture” of the Attorney General’s Office.
The most explosive and unanswered questions relate to Mr. Corbett’s role as a willing bystander. If Governor Corbett can brag about being “hand’s-on” during the firing of Joe Paterno, why was he “hands-off” when his staff was shredding documents, mismanaging tax pay dollars and giving generous breaks to deadbeat tax payers?
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