"What's black and white and read all over?"

Sunday, December 11, 2005
Posted 3:59 PM by

Habay case shines light on legislative arrogance

If state Rep. Jeff 'Baby face' Habay get convicted of theft for stealing his staffers office work for his re-election campaign, who's next?There's a lovely little soap opera going on across the state that has implications here.

State Rep. Jeff Habay, a sixth-term Republican from Allegheny County, is on trial for allegedly forcing his office staffers to help his re-election campaign on taxpayer time.

Habay is facing felony charges of theft of services and conflict of interest. He denies any wrongdoing, of course, saying he always instructed his staff not to do politics while at work.

In his defense, Habay argued in part on Friday, "I voted no on the pay raise. I voted no on the last pay increase and, in fact, I gave both of them back."

However, the state Ethics Commission last year found he did violate state laws and ordered him to repay $13,000 for the campaign work. The Commission then referred the case to the state Attorney General's office, which pressed the charges.

Prosecutors and some of his staffers say he ordered workers to stuff fund-raising envelopes, compile list of potential donors from state Department of Transportation records and to plan campaign events when they were supposed to be helping constituents.

Even if he beats the state rap, Habay also faces a second trial next year on 21 counts filed by county prosecutors, including charges that he made up a story about receiving a suspicious white powder in the mail and that he directed his staff to investigate his adversaries on state time.

Why the heck should you care about any of this?

Because legislators across the state often use their staffs to do campaign work, arguing the practice is legal so long as the work is done after-hours.

In the course of their jobs, staffers also have access to all kinds of sensitive information about constituents - not just PennDOT records, which can be used for "opponent research," what President Richard Nixon used to call rat fucking.

One high-ranking Democrat once got into a shouting with me over the issue, arguing his staffers were able to deduce that his "fiscally conservative" Republican opponent was on multiple government programs. All this while they were working after hours for the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

There was only one catch.

Federal and state laws prevented me from doing the same work as a reporter and a private citizen after I had set up a Chinese firewall.

That type of information could only be garnered under false pretenses during regular business hours, my reporting showed.

You do the math. Somebody's lying. Chances are, a lot of somebodies.


This Week's Rants | The Daily Rant Archives

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.