HARRISBURG - Eight employees of the House Democratic Office of Legislative Research spent months away from their state jobs to campaign full-time last year and still received taxpayer-financed bonuses of $5,000 to more than $15,000 each, according to a published report.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette examined campaign-expenditure records to trace the activities of legislative staffers who shared in bonuses that the House Democrats paid in 2006 - the year they reclaimed the majority after 12 years of minority status.
State Attorney General Tom Corbett's office has empaneled a grand jury to investigate whether bonuses paid by all four legislative caucuses were rewards for government work, as legislative leaders say, or illegal payments for political work employees did to advance their parties' candidates.
House Democrats gave out $1.9 million in bonuses last year, $700,000 more than the other three caucuses combined.
Legislative staffers commonly use vacation and other authorized time off to work on campaigns and sometimes are paid with campaign funds. It is illegal for them to do political work while being paid by the state.
Investigators have said they are scrutinizing all of the nearly $4 million in bonuses paid to legislative staffers in 2005 and 2006.
But the focus appears to be on House Democrats and their research office, whose ostensible mission is to provide services to legislators' constituents. Last month, state agents raided the office and seized some of its records, according to newspaper reports.
The Post-Gazette said 80 of the staff members who received the biggest 100 bonuses had worked for or contributed money to then-Minority Whip Michael Veon (D., Beaver), who was defeated in the election and now has a lobbying firm in Harrisburg.
William Sloane, chief counsel to the House Democrats, who received a $4,945 bonus, drove 2,584 miles doing work for the House Democratic Campaign Committee during the year. He spent two days in Beaver County campaigning for Veon and made 10 postelection trips to Chester County, site of a vote recount crucial to the Democratic takeover in the House.
Jennifer Brubaker, director of the research office, received a bonus of $17,750. Although she was not reimbursed for campaign expenses, she contributed $500 apiece to House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene) and the House Democratic Campaign Committee, and $250 to Veon.
Charles Quinnan, director of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, campaigned several days in different parts of the state and received a $7,185 bonus.
Quinnan declined to comment yesterday. Sloane and Brubaker did not immediately return phone messages.