IN A PARALLEL universe, far, far away, former state Rep. John Perzel's plan to plead guilty today to 2009 charges related to his use of public money to fund his and other campaigns should be a relic of an era that has since passed.

In this parallel universe, sweeping reforms followed the far-reaching Bonusgate scandal that nailed lawmakers for blurring the line between campaign activities and taxpayer dollars.

Those sweeping reforms were itemized eloquently in a special grand-jury report calling for, among other changes: term limits for lawmakers; lengthening state-rep terms from 2 to 4 years; dissolution of expensive caucuses that create unnecessary duplicate expenses in staff and technology; a more-transparent budget process; the return of unused legislative budget money to the state treasury; and the end of per-diems.

Wouldn't it be nice to live in that universe?

Instead, Perzel's plea is notable not just because he was one of the more-powerful lawmakers charged in the Bonusgate scandal, but also because it serves as a pathetic reminder of just how little has changed.

The original charges against Perzel include 82 counts of theft, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and conflict of interest. To feed an insatiable appetite for voter information that he could use to craft more-successful re-election campaigns, he used public dollars to buy expensive computer programs and equipment, and created a data empire that he and other GOP caucus members could use to guarantee they won their jobs back.

Perzel's hunger for data was so insatiable, he wanted to scan the license plates of attendees at NASCAR rallies to use for more sophisticated data on crafting campaigns.

These expenses came under the cover of "constituent services."

As bad as these hijinks were, what's worse is the culture in which this subterfuge was allowed to flourish: where the powerful few are answerable to no one and control far too many strings to retain their power, and where the public is left in the dark.

Then again, we the public share the blame, for not demanding the kinds of changes necessary for cleaning out this cesspool of contempt and corruption. Despite the fact that a 2005 pay-raise scandal cost at least 20 incumbents their office, the Bonusgate scandal that followed a few years later has led to little change. To wit: With six Bonusgate charges against him, Rep. Bill DeWeese handily won re-election.

Have we declared defeat? Do we have so many dollars to spare that we can continue to underwrite this perversion of democracy with our taxes, and our votes? If so, that's not a universe worth living in.