Review: Bumsted’s “Keystone Corruption”

Keystone Corruption cover“It happened 100 years ago. It will happen 100 years from now.” That was the reaction of Turnpike Commissioner Egidio Cerelli to his conviction for soliciting a political contribution from PennDOT workers.

That sentiment could also very well serve as the central thesis of Brad Bumsted’s new book Keystone Corruption. Bumsted, a noted political reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, provides an overview of Harrisburg corruption for the last century with a special emphasis on the years 2005 to 2012.

Keystone Corruption is a detailed portrait of all the various scandals and their characters that have occurred in the state since the Capitol building was built in 1906.

In fact, in a humorous and enlightening account, Bumsted explains that the Capitol building itself was the ultimate product of political graft. Although construction was initially projected to cost $4 million, ultimately $13 million was spent on contractors (a difference of more than $225 million in today’s dollars). The prices for everything from paneling to sofas to umbrella tubs were vastly exaggerated.

The anecdote illuminates the key strength of Bumstead’s work; his detailed and informative accounting of corruption in the Capitol. This is especially true for the period when he first started covering Harrisburg in the 1970’s all the way to the present day. For instance, he presents the sagas of Governor Milton Shapp’s troubled administration, recounts Auditor General Al Benedict’s corruption and gives gives us a view of his brutal 1984 campaign for Attorney General against R. Budd Dwyer.

Dwyer’s shocking suicide, which occurred in front of reporters and cameras at a press conference to refute his own corruption charges, is a particularly striking canary in the coalmine.

The heart of the book, though, concerns the numerous scandals of the last few years. This period of journalistic investigation and prosecutorial scrutiny was seemingly born out of the infamous midnight pay raise that was passed by the state legislature in 2005. The bald audacity and arrogance of the move seemed to finally create in the public and the press an intense furor to take down corrupt legislators. In the years to come, the details of the Bonusgate and Computergate scandals captivated the state and Bumsted provides extraordinary accounts of these events, which not only provide a clear explanation of the complicated actions but also thoroughly informative accounts of the actual people involved.

There is, however, one major component missing from this book. Bumsted gives us so much of the what yet he neglects to dig towards the more vital question of why.

He notes that these politicians were motivated by power and the fear of losing by losing re-election. But he never really addresses the central role money plays in this dilemma. So much of the book concerns the use of money yet the reader never feels the author lament money’s power in politics. What makes this especially disappointing is that Bumsted doesn’t shy away from revealing his thoughts or opinions, in fact most of the book is written in his voice. Nonetheless the final chapter, where authors often seek to provide their own remedies, Bumsted defers to other well-known state politicos.

In that spirit, since Bumsted allowed for others to suggest their own remedies, I thought I’d give it a shot myself. Almost all of the state’s recent scandals concerned officials using public money or resources to fund their re-election efforts. Public financing of campaigns would be a perfect remedy for these issues. Likewise, reforms are needed to mitigate the influence of lobbyists in the state capital.

Finally Bumsted spends some time on the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal.
Many have questioned why AG Corbett spent so much time on Bonusgate rather than on Sandusky’s far more heinous crimes. Bumsted feels that criticism is unfair to Corbett.

After the outrageous pay raise, the legislature became such an easy target that the public demanded Corbett to keep a sharp eye on its members.

Many have and will continue to critique the Governor for this, but the real problem is we all kept our eyes off Harrisburg for too long. It wasn’t just lawmakers’ arrogance that spurred Keystone Corruption; it was also the public’s own willful ignorance.

October 22nd, 2013 | Posted in Editorial, Features, Front Page Stories, Harrisburg, Top Stories | 8 Comments

8 thoughts on “Review: Bumsted’s “Keystone Corruption””

  1. guest says:

    Stuart has a lot of his facts wrong. No sense debating with an idiot who said quote “his
    General election opponet Mark Single has the bad luck to have granted a commutation to a killer who got out and killed again a month before the election.” Huh? Bad luck? How about stupidity. Singel commutes a sentence and the killer kills again. Stuart, I doubt the dead man ofr his family would agree with your words “bad luck”. I think they would find your words at minimum callous, insensitive, and wrong just as your words on Bob are plain wrong & incorrect.

  2. Stuart says:

    Not mentioned in the review is the saga of Bob Asher, Budd Dwyer’s co-conspirator. Asher went to jail instead of committing suicide like Dwyer. Dwyer was state treasurer and Asher was Chairman of the Republican State Committee. When Asher got out of jail, he returned this native Montgomery County and when the local GOP wanted nothing to do with him, he set up his own shop and ousted the endorsed incumbent county commissioners. His candidates won and the three member board became the winning Republicans Fox and Mele and Democrat Joe Hoeffel. Mele promptly defected and joined with Hoeffel to freeze out Fox. Hoeffel’ political career was launched. (Years later the candidate chosen to oust the “traitor” Mele, Jim Matthews, made the same deal with Hoeffel to freeze out top votegetter Bruce Castor) Anyway, Asher’s actions in taking on the party with Fox and Mele and winning ignited a civil war in Montco that has raged 20 years and destroyed what was once the most effective political organization in the state. Asher hitches his wagon to Tom Ridge who gets elected governor because his primary opponent (AG Ernie Preate) gets indicted and his
    General election opponet Mark Single has the bad luck to have granted a commutation to a killer who got out and killed again a month before the election. Asher becomes National Committeeman and de facto head of the GOP again. Over time and out of jealousy that someone might arise in the party to be more important than him, the party neglects it’s “stars” and runs a series of losers such that, shortly there will be no statewide elected Republicans (except judges) and the civil war Asher ignited in Montco has spread statewide. This is the biggest scandal of all: that a convicted felon for years has run the Republican Party into the ground. A man convicted of political corruption in its purest form: bribery, conspiracy, perjury, racketeering etc. the GOP is finished forever in Pennsylvania, it is in its death thros now. All thanks to one man: Bob Asher. The man who gave us Tom Corbett.

  3. PAINDY1 says:

    Shouldn’t K-12 Inc, imbed, Charles Zogby resign? Why does Corbett/Brabender love Charter Cyber School Corporate welfare queens so much? Does Brabender have a contract with PACyber, K 12 Inc or Vahan Gureghian? Should students in Philadelphia have the 300:1 student teacher ratio of K-12s Agora Charter School? Corbett loves your kids! https://soundcloud.com/whyy-public-media/education-funding-in

  4. PAINDY1 says:

    http://www.keystonepolitics.com/2013/10/corbett-marijuana-addictive-gateway-drug/
    Maybe if Johnstown had a NIZ, it could afford focused vigilantes to hunt down its murderous Pot dealers. Thanks Tom Corbett for caring about the people of PAGOP Rob Gleason’s home town. PA’s # 1 Race Hustler Rob Gleason wants to make PA safe for the white folk. Maybe Johnstown is a working laboratory of Corbett urban policy. http://fw.to/q794ZAM

  5. PAINDY1 says:

    Dear Jeff Romoff and Scotty Baker of UPMC: Thanks for sharing your Buchanan Ingersoll lobbyists with COS Gromis Baker and the rest of the Corbett/Brabender Administration. http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-city/upmc-says-it-does-not-have-employees-708581/

  6. PAINDY1 says:

    I nominate Brad Bumstead for the Corbett Administration’s Integrity Czar position. I have the following questions: 1. Did the strategic political advice of Mr. John Brabender or Mr. Brian Nutt have any influence on Corbett’s non-interest in pursuing Sandusky, Nick Trombetta or the lost body of Ray Gricar? 2. Does Mr. Brabender’s firm hold any advertising contracts with Cyber School Profiteers, like PACYBER, Vahan Gureghian or K12 INC. ??? 3. Why was Daddy Nutt appointed to lead the PA Turnpike? I know he was the only guy who wanted the job but was this appointment to keep Baby Nutt on the reservation? 4. What was the real reason behind the firing of Former PA Ed Secretary William Harner? My research team is working on my expose on the Corbett Administration. It will published under the name Jack Burden. Publication date Fall 2014.

  7. Policyguy says:

    I’m a little confused by this statement:

    “He presents the sagas of Governor Milton Shapp’s troubled administration, recounts Auditor General Al Benedict’s corruption and gives us a view of his brutal 1984 campaign for Attorney General against R. Budd Dwyer”

    What?

  8. Fred says:

    Brad Bumstead fans who don’t plan to spring the $ for the book should put request slips in at their local libraries (many libraries let you do it online). This is an important book by a respected journalist. It’s important it be read and getting it in the libraries yields a more informed electorate. I have never met Mr. Bumsted but am a huge fan of his reporting.

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