Making politicians pay for their own mistakes

    It kind of sneaks up on you – just how many Pennsylvania politicians have gone down on corruption charges lately.

    The toll is 30 in the last five years. It would be enough to dedicate an entire wing of a Pennsylvania prison to them, if some of the miscreants hadn’t been sent to federal pokeys, spreading the bounty around our correctional institutions.

    I was delighted to see Craig McCoy’s piece in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer turning the spotlight on how much taxpayer money has been spent defending those who betray the public trust.

    McCoy calculates the number at a shocking $15 million. That’s right – while we’re cutting practically every state-funded program, we’ve paid $15 million defending corrupt officials.

    This happens because officials are get publicly-funded representation during the investigative phase of a case, when there’s no proof they did anything wrong. A state law says they’re supposed to repay the money laid out for them if they’re convicted, but it practically never happens, and state prosecutors mostly haven’t even asked them for it.

    I took a crack at this story in August. I’m glad McCoy, who’s been uncovering sleaze in this town for decades, did it in a big way. Read Craig’s story here.

    There’s a reason this matters besides the obvious injustice of having to pay for people who abused their offices.

    Ethical breaches are often investigated by state and county agencies with few resources. When they get a tip about some evil deed done by a public official, they start doing interviews and requesting documents

    Suddenly they hit a stone wall and find a blue chip law firm is fighting them at every step, making them go to court to get basic information. And it’s the public that’s paying the pin-striped warriors to impede the investigation.

    If there were an effective program to get back money spent to defend the indefensible, the scales might even up a bit.

     

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