Common Cause PA calls for new era of reform in wake of Fumo conviction

Press Center

For Immediate Release


March 17, 2009

Barry Kauffman, 717-232-9951



Citing the culture of corruption that permeates governance in Harrisburg, Common Cause/PA Executive Director Barry Kauffman called for a new era of government reform in Pennsylvania. He noted that Vince Fumo’s abuses of public resources and self-serving manipulation of government had been going on for years with only marginal attempts to stop it. In fact, far too often there seemed to be admiration of his prowess where there should have been contempt for his reckless abuses of power. “Fumo had become to PA government what Bernie Madoff was to Wall Street – abusing power and privilege for personal gain” Kauffman said today.

“Public service” he continued “should never be seen as a pathway to wealth. Living the high life on “other people’s money” – meaning your tax dollars – seems to be the goal in far too many cases. Common Cause/PA once again is urging House Speaker Keith McCall, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Joseph Scarnati, and Governor Ed Rendell to call for a special session of the legislature to deal exclusively with government reform matters. While Pennsylvania has taken some important good government steps in recent years, it still trails badly in best practices.”

The good government group said “bright line” statutes are needed to specify what is permissible and what is not, with zero tolerance for use of state staff or resources for personal or political purposes. Common Cause/PA is calling for a dozen essential reforms in a special session on government integrity that would upgrade Pennsylvania’s standards by

‘ Enacting bright line legislation stating that no government employee may work for a political candidate or campaign while in the employment of the Commonwealth or any subdivision thereof;

‘ Increasing penalties and strengthening the terminology in existing laws to prevent use of state and local government resources for personal or political purposes;

‘ Establishing limits on campaign contributions, as nearly every other state has done – including pay-to-play protections on government contracting, and upgrading the state’s online campaign finance database to make it fully and easily searchable. This would severely diminish the temptation to use public resources to reward those who invest heavily in putting and keeping elected officials into office;

‘ Mandating a full annual audit of the legislature by the Auditor General’s office to restore accountability and a better balance of power;

‘ Banning lobbyists from giving gifts and entertainment to public officials and requiring complete disclosure of the objectives lobbyists are pursuing;

‘ Strengthening the state ethics law to require public officials to identify not only their sources of outside income, but also the amounts from each source and what services were provided by the official to earn it;

‘ Toughening the state Whistleblower law to give both public and private employees better protection when reporting illegal activities of their employers;

‘ Abolishing “WAMS,” which can serve as the “pathway drug” to abusing public resources in return for personal and political favors;

‘ Reforming the corrupt redistricting system, whose principal function has become protection of incumbents from challengers;

‘ Establishing a compensation board for public officials and employees that recognizes public servants’ compensation will never be able to compete with that of private industry and that strictly complies with constitutional mandates and restrictions;

‘ Restoring the state Sunset Law so that every government program and agency has regular periodic performance reviews to determine if it is effective, efficient, performing necessary functions, and not redundant with fulfilling the same function of other programs; and

‘ Bolstering public corruption units of law enforcement agencies so as to restore public faith and confidence in the rule of law.

The Common Cause leader said the Fumo affair could become a silver lining to the cloud that has hung over Harrisburg for a long time. Kauffman indicated “The question is, will the current leaders once again circle the wagons to defend the rotten system from which they benefit, or will they finally blaze a new trail, determined to protect the public interest from abuses of power.”