John Perzel charged in 'Bonusgate'

Yesterday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett announced the latest “Bonusgate” charges: the illegal use of tax dollars and state employees for political campaigns.

His latest target is former House Speaker John Perzel, who is accused of spending $11 million in taxpayer dollars on databases and other technology designed to help Republicans win elections.

The announcement follows charges filed in July 2008 against 12 people connected to the House Democratic caucus for similar abuses. The House Democrats allegedly awarded $1.9 million in bonuses (paid for with tax dollars) to state employees for their work on campaigns.

Below is a breakdown of the similarites and differences between the Democratic and Republican cases.

First, the similarities.

It’s all about power. For both the Democrats and Republicans, the charges stem from the need to gain or hold onto power. According to Corbett, Perzel initiated this scheme after almost losing an election in 2000. He desperately wanted to stay in office and allegedly used taxpayer dollars to purchase technology that would make that happen.

The Democrats were motivated by the same basic desire. They didn’t purchase computer software, but paid bonuses to state employees who worked on elections in 2006. That was the same year that Democrats took control of the House of Representatives.

Obstruction of justice played a major part. Both the Republicans and Democrats charged by Corbett did their best to hide their alleged wrongdoing, even after they knew about the investigation. Perzel is accused of trying to move political materials from storage in the state Capitol. Democrats allegedly deleted thousands of e-mails relevant to bonuses. Both efforts were unsuccessful, and both led to additional serious charges against the alleged conspirators.

The players are no longer players. In both cases, the major defendants are well past their political prime. Former Rep. Mike Veon, the highest ranking Democrat to be ensnared in the investigation, was defeated in an election before being named by Corbett as a co-conspirator. Perzel is still in office, but his power has diminished significantly since Republicans lost control of the state House. Both the Republican and Democratic caucuses have new leaders who haven’t been implicated in the scandal.

Here are the differences in the cases against the two parties.

The amount of money. The Democratic leadership spent about $1.9 million on bonuses, while the Republican leadership spent $11 million on computer software and other technology to help win elections, according to Corbett. Perzel apparently implemented the scheme over a longer period of time, which is why there might be such disparity in dollar amounts.

What the money bought. The Democrats reimbursed state workers for spending time working on campaigns. Essentially, they spent tax dollars to buy labor for political work. In contrast, Perzel spent money on technology designed to win elections.

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