State of Corruption: The conflicts conundrum
Things that are legal to do are not necessarily right to do — such as actions that create appearances of conflicts of interest, to which Pennsylvania state government too long has been blind.
One defendant’s lawyer in a Pennsylvania Turnpike “pay-to-play” case — begun by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett as attorney general and prosecuted by Democrat Attorney General Kathleen Kane — claims political bias. Arguing that soliciting and accepting turnpike contractors’ campaign contributions is technically legal and has been done by Republicans including Mr. Corbett, he questions why his client, George Hatalowich, the turnpike commission’s chief operating officer under former Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell, is facing six criminal counts.
That’s an implicit endorsement of state government’s conflict-of-interest blind spot, part of business as usual in reprehensibly corrupt, “everybody does it” Harrisburg. And ignoring appearances of conflicts of interest — which both parties should avoid at all costs — leads to conflicts that can constitute criminal offenses.
A conflict-of-interest charge is among the six criminal counts Mr. Hatalowich faces. Whether his conduct indeed was criminal will be decided in court. But there’s no denying the appearance of a conflict of interest in his case.
Until officials such as Hatalowich recognize and avoid potential conflicts of interest — and, thereby, criminal conflict charges — Pennsylvania will deserve its State of Corruption label.