HARRISBURG - House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) yesterday called "questionable" recent assertions by the House's top Democrat that he was unaware that taxpayer-funded bonuses were given to legislative staffers for political work.
Smith's comments to reporters yesterday were a rebuke of House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese's contention that he did not know the magnitude of bonuses awarded to legislative staffers in his caucus - $1.9 million just last year.
Smith said DeWeese is ultimately responsible for the actions of underlings who, documents show, routinely handed out year-end bonuses as a reward for campaign work between 2004 and 2006. It is illegal to use government resources to fund or subsidize campaign efforts.
The bonus payments are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the state Attorney General's Office. No one has been charged in the case.
"As the Republican leader," Smith said yesterday, "I know that ultimately the buck stops with me, and I'm responsible for the actions even if I really wasn't."
He added: "I find it questionable that certain alleged activities . . . have taken place that [DeWeese] wasn't aware of. Anything as big as that program that they had going, I think he was aware of."
In a statement late yesterday, DeWeese said he would not respond to Smith's comments.
Earlier in the day, after a press event in the Capitol, DeWeese answered few questions on what has come to be known as "Bonusgate" before turning on his heel to leave.
Smith's comments come just days after damning e-mails surfaced that indicated taxpayer money was used to reward House Democratic legislative employees for political work by giving them bonuses at the end of the year.
The e-mails show a quartet of high-ranking Democratic aides created a grading system for rewarding staffers based on their campaign work. The grades ranged from "OK" to "rock star."
The Attorney General's Office has said it is investigating bonuses awarded by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.
Smith said he reviews bonuses before they are awarded and he is certain that in his caucus, such payments were given to reward performance on the job, not the campaign trail.
"We did not do anything wrong," he said.