Demand a recount, Pennsylvania!

Posted: June 23, 2014

Pennsylvania, we can do so much better.

A new academic study ranks the commonwealth as the nation's fifth most corrupt state based on convictions of elected public officials and misappropriation of public funds for private gain, a Harrisburg specialty. (New Jersey secured amateur status at 20th most corrupt.)

Granted, we're below Illinois, where four of the last seven governors graduated to prison (with one doing a reality-television pit stop in between) but, still, fifth? Don't two convicted former state House speakers count for something?

This is the season when state and city legislators madly dash to get budgets approved and laws passed/deferred/whatever, doing the work of four months in one, so they can commence paid summer vacations from legislating, which, you may recall, is their job.

Gov. Corbett has threatened to keep legislators working next month. Imagine the drudgery of having to legislate in July or August or the first splendid weeks of September! Then again, it was during the summer - the wee hours of July 7, 2005, to be exact - that politicians voted themselves a raise, sort of a severe case of the munchies but with money instead of brownies.

Elected officials' summer breaks rival in length those of students but with more chicken dinners and shaking of hands. Legislators will tell you they are very, very busy during the summer doing stuff. Experience tells us that very, very busy people don't need to tell you they are.

Paid summer vacations from legislating allow politicians to work on constituent service and the perpetual campaign, pretty much one and the same, ensuring incumbency, which taxpayers subsidize.

Then again, left to their own devices, legislators can get creative, which is not their strong suit. A particular Philadelphia talent is securing Other People's Money for pet projects that sound good but appear to do little except move funds to friends and family.

Democratic State Rep. Louise Bishop secured $2 million in state and city funds for the Lancaster Avenue Redevelopment Corp. (LARC) in her Overbook district. You may recall that Bishop is one of four state legislators named in the once-failed, recently revived sting operation. This fiasco has pitted the top state and city prosecutors against each other despite both being Democrats. Should make for a lively dinner-party pairing someday.

Bishop allegedly took $1,500 from a lobbyist though she later said: "Never met him. Never had any dealings with him."

Philadelphia is lousy with redevelopment corporations built on the combustible cocktail of your money and legislators' egos, a model established by former Democratic State Sen. and federal inmate Vincent Fumo, a contributor to our state corruption ranking.

The Louise Williams Bishop Retail and Commercial Center accomplished very little, the Daily News reported, its only tenant a Little Caesars. As far as I can tell, cheap pizza has never been the cornerstone of successful redevelopment.

Also, when a legislator secures public money and names a project after herself, it's best to count the spoons, though apparently few people did. According to tax records, LARC paid Tamika Mezache about $120,000 over three years. You will be shocked to learn that Mezache is Bishop's daughter. So, at least for the Bishop family, LARC proved a lark.

Former Democratic State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, now a councilman, had more modest dreams. Instead of a redevelopment corporation, he launched a registered charity, Peace Not Guns Inc. Except, according to Axis Philly, it was never federally registered. Johnson's chief of staff said the organization didn't accept donations, yet it appeared to do just that.

"It's a program and it's a concept," Johnson said after the nonprofit's non-status was discovered. "I think sometimes the two can get intertwined." This reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit where a product is extolled as a floor wax and a dessert topping.

When it comes to legislators' whims and other people's money, who can tell the difference between a program, a concept, a whatever?

Which gets us back to where we started. Only fifth?


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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