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State bonus probe widens to Senate's GOP caucus
Wednesday, February 13, 2008 BY CHARLES THOMPSON Of The Patriot-News Attorney General Tom Corbett's yearlong probe of legislative operations entered new turf this week when his investigators subpoenaed records from the state Senate's majority Republican caucus. The subpoena, confirmed Tuesday by the Senate Republicans' general counsel, Stephen MacNett, is believed to be the first served in the Senate during the investigation. Corbett's office is investigating whether any of $3.6 million in once-secret bonus payments to legislative staffers by all four caucuses in 2005-06 were rewards for campaign work. Agents are also believed to be looking for evidence of campaigning on state time or using state resources. No charges have been filed. The probe has focused largely on the House Democratic caucus, where bonus payments spiked from $435,000 in 2005 to more than $1.8 million in 2006, after the party recaptured control. House Republicans were also hit with a records subpoena last fall. Senate Democrats, who had the smallest of the four bonus programs, have not been served. Senate GOP leaders had said they expected to be contacted by investigators. In December, the caucus -- which underwent a leadership change last year and has since ended its bonus program -- retained two Philadelphia law firms, Ballard Spahr and Conrad O'Brien, as legal advisers. The new subpoena, if consistent with the probe to date, likely covers a variety of computer and personnel records. Critics have complained Corbett's probe should pay more attention to 2006 bonuses paid by Senate Republicans, in particular payments to staffers Michael Long, J. Andrew Crompton and Erik Arneson. All spent time on campaign work. Long, a former aide to then-Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair County, received a $22,500 bonus in 2006 despite taking several weeks off to work on his boss's unsuccessful re-election bid. Crompton received $19,647 despite working exclusively for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann from July through October, and Arneson was paid $15,000 though he was on campaign leave for parts of 10 weeks for then-Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill, R-Lebanon. Crompton and Arneson still work for the caucus. Long and MacNett contend that the bonuses were strictly for legislative work and to get top staffers' total pay to better reflect a previous compensation study. "We had 16 people who got caucus bonuses that year and only three of them worked on campaigns," Long said in December. He said those who took time off for campaign work were paid for that work by the campaigns. "We tried to do it right," he said.
MacNett said the caucus will comply with the subpoena. Kevin Harley, Corbett's press secretary, declined comment in keeping with a policy of not discussing grand jury investigations.