Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dirt on Corbett is Coming Out

First the DeNaples money and now questions about State Staff versus Campaign Staff. Corbett is beginning to unravel. JBOC

AG strives to separate job, re-election

Staff Writer

Lebanon Daily News

HARRISBURG — As he prosecutes the high-profile “Bonusgate” case accusing state officials of campaigning on the public dime, Attorney G eneral Tom Corbett is seeking re-election himself. And one man has played a key role in both the attorney general’s office and the=2 0Corbett campaign: Brian Nutt, the attorney general’s chief of staff, is now his campaign manager. Nutt went on unpaid leave last month from his state job to manage Corbett’s campaign in his race against Democrat John Morganelli. But Nutt also assisted at political events for Corbett throughout his first term in office, state records show. Nutt is one of several staffers who work closely with Corbett in the attorney general’s office and have done at least some political work for their boss during his first term, according to an analysis of campaign-finance records by the Lebanon Daily News. Kevin Harley, the attorney general’s director of communications, has also helped the Corbett campaign, along with both of Corbett’s executive assistants and two top aides in his office of legislative affairs, records show. Some attorney-general staffers traveled to political events and were reimbursed for lodging and meals. Some bought stamps or office supplies for the campaign. None of those staffers is accused of wrongdoing, and Harley said the attorney general makes it clear to employees that all campaign work must be “completely separate” from
their jobs. Campaign work on som eone’s own time without government compensation is perfectly legal. In Bonusgate, Corbett charged 12 Democrats in a far-reach ing case that claims House staffers regularly did campaign work in their state offices and top officials used a taxpayer-funded bonus scheme to=2 0reward aides for their political work. The situation in Corbett’s office reveals more about the culture of the Capitol, where certain government employees juggle state jobs with political activity for their boss. Some politick regularly; others do it only on occasion. Harrisburg activists say it illustrates the gray area that exists throughout state government between state work and campaign work. Some say that Corbett, a Republican and potential governor’s candidate in 2010, has set a bad example by tapping his chief of staff to run his campaign while pursuing Bonusgate. Activist Gene Stilp said Corbett could further undermine people’s confidence in state government after controversies such as the 2005 pay raise and scandals such as Bonusgate. “This is not showing good judgment,” Stilp said. “He has to be squeaky clean, and this isn’t squeaky clean.” “A right way to do this” Harley said only a handful of aides who hold executive-level jobs do campaign work in their spare time. The attorney general’s office has roughly 800 employees. In separate interviews, Harley and Nutt drew a sharp contrast between the allegations levied against House Democrats and the campaign work by certain attorney general staffers. “There’s20a right way to do this, and a legal way, and that is what’s being done (in the attorney general’s office),” Harley said. 0D He said the attorney general awards no bonuses or comp time and requires staffers who take leave to campaign to submit a letter promising they will use no state resources for political work. Staffers who are on leave, like Nutt, also don’t get state health or pension benefits. Nutt, who lives in Hummelstown, is an experienced political hand who also managed Corbett’s first campaign in 2004. He said he took over as campaign manager this year after beginning his unpaid leave. Nutt said many of the events for which he was reimbursed by the campaign in past years were dinners with political figures that should not have been billed to the taxpayers. One was a trip to Colorado with Corbett to a meeting with Republican attorneys general. “That’s not really campaigning. It’s the inevitable kind of thing that obviously takes place when you’re in elected office,” Nutt said. Activist Eric Epstein of said Nutt’s leave of absence for the campaign underscores the need for an assessment of staffing levels across state government to determine how many positions aren t needed, Epstein said. “If you can take a leave from your job for six months, how much value do you bring to the job in the first place?” he said. Nutt disagreed, saying his absence does not hamper operations in the attorney ge neral’s office because others are working longer hours without extra pay to cover for him. His chief-of-staff duties are being spread out among several top aides, namely First Deputy Attorney General William Ryan Jr. “It is a relatively short amount of time, and for the greater cause of what Tom Corbett stands for myself and some other people are willing to make sacrifices,” Nutt said. Campaign checks Corbett’s office has been looking into illegal campaign activity in the Legislature since February 2007 after news reports appeared about secret bonuses to select staffers. A grand-jury report accompanying the Bonusgate charges traced the use of taxpayer-funded bonuses for campaign work to 2004 in the House Democratic caucus. Meanwhile, Nutt and other Corbett aides were helping their boss at political functions from time to time, records show. Corbett took office in January 2005, and since then Nutt received 14 checks from the campaign reimbursing him for expenses, records show. Nutt racked up $7,361 for meals, lodging, parking and other unspecified expenses for the Corbett campaign between January 2005 and February 2008. Rebekah Myers, an executive assistant to Corbett, was reimbursed by the campaign for buying office supplies and stamps, among other things. The Lancaster County resident re ceived seven reimbursement checks totaling $1,126 from the campaign during Corbett’s first term. Like Nutt, Myers has taken unpaid leave fro m her state job. She has been off the state payroll since April. Harley, also a Lancaster County resident, received four reimbursement checks from the campaign totaling $4,229 for lodging and unspecified expenses. He received all four between January 2005 and December 2007. Annmarie Kaiser of Harrisburg, director of legislative affairs for the attorney general, was reimbursed once this year for campaign travel. She received a check of $382 in March for lodging. Andrew Paris of Etters, York County, is a legislative liaison who works under Kaiser and received three checks totaling $402 for unspecified expenses between September 2005 and May 2007. Karen Mitchell, another executive assistant to the attorney general, received one reimbursement check from the campaign for $17.91. The Lemoyne resident received a check for unspecified expenses in September 2005. Calls left for Myers, Kaiser, Paris and Mitchell were not returned.

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