Nearly four decades ago, Pennsylvanians elected a governor who told them “I have seen the dark underside of Pennsylvania” as a former prosecutor and would work to clean things up.
Gov. Dick Thornburgh made that claim during the 1978 campaign. Brad Bumsted, a veteran statehouse reporter, has seen the dark underside too.
He has now written two books that show how Pennsylvania is caught up in seemingly unending cycles of corruption.
Bumsted offers solutions to break that cycle of corruption, and just as importantly, he gives a platform so others, including Thornburgh, can give their views on how to reform state government.
His new book Keystone Corruption Continues (Sunbury Press) covers a new round of corruption that burst on the scene in 2013 even as a number of former legislative leaders were still serving prison terms resulting from the earlier Bonusgate scandal.
“Corruption has been cyclical in Pennsylvania since the Civil War,” wrote Bumsted. “And perhaps, we were ready for a respite. From 2007 to 2012, thirty-eight officials with ties to the state Capitol were charged by state, federal and local prosecutors.”
“Instead of stopping, this latest cycle seems unending. Eighteen more state officials were charged with crimes after I finished my last book Keystone Corruption: A Pennsylvania Insider’s View of a State Gone Wrong (Camino Books Inc.). “Most resulted in convictions. Many walked on lesser charges. Still, that increased the total number of state officials charged to 56 since 2010 when the so-called Bonusgate charges against House Democrats unfolded.”
Outside of politicians going to prison, the official response to these scandals has been anemic: a new public records law, self-enforcing legislative rules to ban political activity on state time and accepting cash gifts, executive orders to ban officials taking gifts.
Our elected officials have provided no real deterrent with new laws on the books setting tough penalties for acts of corruption and ethical violations.
Bumsted writes from the point of view of an investigative journalist focused on exposing corruption, an endangered species these days. He gives detailed accounts of his colleagues going about their jobs as news breaks, sources give tips and politicians offer spin.
He also takes us deep into the world of the prosecutors, defense attorneys, reformers and the hunted, the politicians caught up in the web of scandal.
In his new book, none come under closer scrutiny than Kathleen Kane, the former state attorney general, recently convicted of perjury and other counts in relation with leaking secret grand jury material to a reporter.
Bumsted’s book was published shortly before Kane was convicted after a trial in a Montgomery County Court. He covered that trial for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
But that doesn’t stop him from offering the sobering judgment that due to Kane’s reign it will take years for the Office of Attorney General to recover its reputation as a top law enforcement agency. That’s something for voters to think about as they elect a new attorney general in November.