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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Veon Fallout: An End to WAMs

Yesterday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett announced additional charges against former Rep. Mike Veon and staffer Annamarie Peretta-Rosepink for their role in directing state funds to the Beaver Initiative for Growth. 

Veon and former Sen. Gerald LaValle, D-Rochester, funded the nonprofit with more than $10 million in state grants over a decade.
Most of that funding came from Community Revitalization program, also known as Walking Around Money or WAMs).  Former Sen. Vince Fumo, convicted last week of 137 counts, also directed WAMs to a nonprofit organization he controlled, which he then used for personal gain.  These funds are controlled by legislative leaders, to be dolled at their discretion to rank-and-file members upon request (Veon and Fumo were both members of leadership).

Is it time to eliminate WAMs?  We think so, and have highlighted not only the egregious spending from that program, but also the process by which funds are doled out.  Other reform groups are also concerned about how these funds are used, and the complete lack of oversight.

A number of House Republicans have also called for the elimination of WAMs and "discretionary funds." And now Senate Pro-Tem (and Lt. Governor) Joe Scarnati admits this indicates "evidence of a breakdown in the state's grant system." (HT Grassroots PA).

Amazingly, Democrat leaders defend WAMs:
"We believe the system works," said Bob Caton, a spokesman for House Speaker Keith McCall, D-Carbon. "A few aberrations aren't enough to condemn the good work that these dollars do in communities all across the state."

Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow, D-Lackawanna, said the grants are given like any other state check to people who are expected to have honesty and integrity, such as local school districts. [emphasis added]

When they misuse the money, it is up to investigators and auditors to catch them, Mellow said.
How many more of their colleagues need to go to prison for them to see the light of day?


YMCA Youth & Government said...

How about better transparency instead? Or limits on the amount of money that can be given out to any one organization in a given year? There are a ton of very small programs like volunteer fire companys, small non-profits (like mine), true grass roots community organizations that recieve $5k, $10k, $15k grants. Most grants are not the $10 million that Beaver County democrats sent to one place.

Nathan Benefield said...

The problem is the process. You may think your organization is deserving of taxpayer funding (many will disagree, as you should rather rely on private funding, which government is crowding out), but how is such merit determined?

Under WAMs, it is measured by how much influence your lawmaker has with legislative leaders. I find decisions based purely on politics - and all of these programs are, as I'm sure each grant to the YMCA is accompanied by a check presenation ceremony - to be a horrible way to decide who gets taxpayer funding.

Sad Blue Devil said...

End of WAMs? Don't tease me. The quote from McCall's office is absurd--one would think that the indictment of a dozen Harrisburg insiders would be sufficient evidence that the WAM system gives inappropriate power to elect officials.