Former Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel recently got out of jail, where he had served two years for public corruption. He and others of his ilk offer a cautionary tale of the headiness of power and how vigilant voters must be to guard against wrongdoing.
Perzel, from Philadelphia, spent more than three decades in the House, but ended up pleading guilty to conspiracy, conflict of interest and theft. Behind the façade of a legitimate power broker, he also pulled the strings on a plot to use taxpayers’ money to create computer databases of voter information, all with an eye toward giving Republicans an edge in elections.
Sadly, Perzel is far from alone.
At the other end of Pennsylvania, former Democratic whip Mike Veon of Beaver County, near Pittsburgh, used state employees to work on Democratic election campaigns and spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars on the process. Another Democrat closer to home, former Pocono-area senator Bob Mellow, was once minority floor leader and Senate president pro tempore. Mellow got 16 months after pleading guilty to using staff to do political work and for filing a false tax return.
Prosecutors found that Mellow kept deploying state employees on election work even as other legislators were being swept up in the net of “Bonusgate,” the sting named for the wayward legislators’ practice of awarding bonuses to public employees for their campaign work. Pennsylvania law bans paying state employees for such work.
Veon remains in jail. Mellow, now 71, is finishing his term in home confinement. Perzel will go to work doing marketing for a construction company, PennLive.com reported.
All three of these men spent many years in public “service” and reached the top echelons of power in state government. All three abused that power.
Their surfacing from time to time in the news should serve as an important reminder to voters to scrutinize what their elected officials are doing to advance transparency in government and to examine whether they are actually accomplishing measures for the public good or simply furthering their own political ambitions.
Politics is no spectator sport. It’s up to citizens to keep elected officials accountable.