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Talk about the case of the Stupids.
Leanna “I am the f_ _ _ing Senator” Washington gets indicted by a state grand jury on charges of using her legislative staff to work on her annual campaign “gala” fundraiser, despite several warning signs that it might not be a good idea to use one’s staff in that way.
She did it even though some major players in Harrisburg were serving jail terms for using their staff to do political work. To name the most prominent, House Speaker Bill DeWeese, Democratic House leader Mike Veon, House Speaker John Perzel and State Senators Vince Fumo, Jane Orie and Bob Mellow.
You would have thought at some point—perhaps as she was in the Senate chamber looking at the empty desks once occupied by Fumo, Orie and Mellow—it might have dawned on Washington doing the same thing might get her into trouble, too.
But, apparently not. Duh.
She did it even though her chief of staff Sean McCray told her not once but several times that having him and other staff members do all the work associated with her fundraiser was in violation of Senate rules and state law.
“Suddenly,” the indictment states, “Senator Washington began to find fault with McCray and their relationship became very strained.”
A month after McCray pointed out that what was going on was wrong, Washington cut his salary by $1,000. When he later pressed the issue, she told him, again according to the indictment:
“I am the f_ _ _ ing senator, I do what the f _ _ _ I want, how I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me. I have been doing this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me.”
At least you can’t accuse her of beating around the bush.
What did McCray do next? He did what he wanted, which was to visit Montgomery County detectives to tell them what the senator was doing (Washington’s district includes most of Northwest Philadelphia and Abington, Jenkintown and Cheltenham in Montgomery County.)
A detective started an investigation on January 15, 2013. McCray was fired by Washington three weeks later. Enter, stage left, the Attorney General, who picked up the ball and issued the grand jury indictment last week.
For the record, Washington has denied the charges, which her attorney said were based on false allegations made by a disgruntled employee. That would be McCray.
But, apparently few of her employees were gruntled. (Yes, it is a word. It means happy.)
The indictment says that Washington ruled in a “heavy-handed, micro-managing way,” and employees were afraid to say no when she demanded they work (and work many hours) on her “gala,” which was usually held in July, to coincide with her birthday.
Investigators interviewed a half-dozen current and former employees and just to summarize their testimony they all said: Oh yes, I spent many hours working on state time for her fundraiser. Or words to that effect.
From the period between 2008 and 2013, Washington’s campaign PAC raised and spent nearly $300,000. An examination of her filings with the Department of State indicates that most of that money came from checks written on or around the time of her “gala.”
What those campaign spending records do not show—and this is not kosher—is that she never reported in-kind contributions made on her behalf for the gala.
For one thing, the folks who run Belmont Mansion, which is where the gala was held during the years in question, gave her free use of the hall—in consideration of her many kindnesses done. Normally, the rental would cost $2,500 a pop. Washington never reported this mitzvah.
For another thing, in 2013 the caterers were paid in part by three political action committees run by S.R. Wojdak and Associates, the firm headed up by Steve Wojdak, a long-time lobbyist based in Philadelphia. The three expenditures, which totaled $3,500, are listed in the Wojdak PACs as payments to the caterers of the event, along with the notation “contribution.” But, it does not list whom these contribution were for.
Washington should have listed this PAC money as an in-kind contribution on her own campaign committee’s report. She did not. I would call this money laundering.
Finally—and you can’t make this up—Washington did all this despite a Senate Ethics Code resolution passed in 2010 in response to all the indictments/convictions in Harrisburg.
Resolution 228 established a set of rules over use of legislative employees. I won’t go into details, other than to mention that item No. 1 reads: “No campaign activity may be conducted by Senate employees on Senate work time.”
Seems pretty clear to me.
By the way, Senator Washington was a sponsor of that resolution. If only she had taken time to read it, this unfolding tragedy may have been averted.
On second thought, probably not.
What is at work here is not only stupidity but also arrogance, a breathtaking “I am above the law” attitude that seems to infect public officials. Washington has been in Harrisburg for a while: she was first elected to the State House in 1993 and to the Senate in 2005.
If these allegations stand, she will likely end up serving time in a place where they never, ever hold galas. That will be quite a change for a woman who refused to change.