State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Democratic senator criminally charged for abusing office

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 12, 2014 11:24 AM
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Photo by Pa. Legislature website

State Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-Montgomery) has been charged criminally with using her legislative office to her own political and financial benefit by the state attorney general.

A grand jury investigation into the suburban Philadelphia senator found that Washington directed legislative staff "to conduct extensive and time-consuming political work, including substantial fundraising efforts, in Senate offices and by using Senate equipment - all for her personal and political benefit and financial gain." Doing campaign and political work using taxpayer-funded legislative resources (such as offices, staff, time, equipment), is not permitted under Pennsylvania law.

Staffers testified that the senator docked salaries and work hours and fired some employees when they did not complete tasks they knew were improper, like organizing a "political campaign birthday fundraiser."

The presentment includes testimony from Washington's former chief of staff, who confronted the senator about his discomfort working on the event, and encouraged her to stop handling political activity using legislative resources. He testified that Washington replied: "I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me." In the months that followed, the former chief of staff went to county law enforcement and was fired by Washington.

The allegations were detailed in a statement by the attorney general's office release late Wednesday morning.

"We plan to vigorously contest these thin and specious charges in court," said Washington's lawyer, Hank Hockheimer, in a written statement. "We do not believe that the facts give rise to any criminal conduct by Senator Washington."

The grand jury's presentment alleges the activity spanned eight years, and cost the commonwealth from $30,000 to $100,000, thought it notes the "true financial impact... is not easily calculated."

The presentment also points out an irony that Washington was among the co-sponsors of a resolution to adopt ethical policies for members of the Senate. It was drafted in the wake of the so-called Bonusgate charges, when scads of legislators were convicted for using their political offices for personal gain. The Senate Ethics Code Resolution was passed in 2010.

Washington has served in the Senate since she won a special election in 2005 to represent a district including parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia. Before that, she served for 12 years in the House.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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