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Contributors may take heat for pay grab
By David M. Brown
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
A group trying to throw out all state legislators over the General Assembly's self-approved pay raise is now targeting financial supporters of those elected officials.
PACleanSweep plans to identify major contributors to lawmakers on its Web site -- PACleanSweep.com -- and push for a boycott of businesses that donate to incumbents after Sept. 19, an organizer said Monday.
Russ Diamond, chairman of the Harrisburg-based "Operation Clean Sweep," said the plan aims to "reduce the flow of money and show the public who is helping incumbents maintain their grip on power."
"When you are at war, you've got to cut off the enemy's supply lines," he said. "That's exactly what we're in. The government has failed us and, as a side effect, they have really declared economic war on us."
Without any debate, lawmakers raised their pay -- as well as salaries for top state officials and judges -- during the early morning hours of July 7.
Since then, there's been a groundswell of opposition from taxpayers.
The bill Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law allows lawmakers to collect unvouchered expenses in amounts equal to the raises to get around a constitutional prohibition barring legislators from receiving increases in the same two-year term in which they were approved. The actual raises take effect on Dec. 1, 2006, for most legislators.
William Billings, 59, an Overbrook resident who is upset about the pay hike, said he would join the boycott.
"I will also call the companies and say, 'I really don't appreciate you sending money to people that are that arrogant about our taxes,'" Billings said.
Others who oppose the pay raise, however, think PACleanSweep's approach goes too far.
"I wouldn't be in favor of removing (legislators) indiscriminately," said Dave Majernik, 59, of Plum, a state GOP committeeman, who cosponsored a resolution approved by the Republican State Committee on Saturday that was critical of the pay raise.
A more-effective approach is to build a consensus in the Legislature that the pay raise was wrong and get it rescinded, Majernik said. "I see popular support for repealing it."
Diamond said defeating the entire Legislature is the only approach that will work because legislative leaders will never "let a repeal happen." Also, even incumbents who voted against the pay raise didn't step forward with protests over the state constitution being circumvented, he said.
The earliest a boycott of contributors would start is mid-October, Diamond said. The Sept. 19 deadline for contributions to stop gives "fair warning" that "you're either with us or against us," he said.
Fred Taub of Boycott Watch, a Cleveland, Ohio-based group that monitors boycotts on the truthfulness of their claims, said the effectiveness of PACleanSweep's proposed boycott depends on the size of the companies targeted and other factors. Boycotts have a quicker impact on small "mom-and-pop" businesses than on large firms with popular brand names, he said.
"In a political boycott, it really depends on how angry the people are," Taub said. "(PACleanSweep) could theoretically affect elections dramatically."
Pittsburgh parking magnate Merrill Stabile, who makes frequent contributions to political candidates, said the boycott sounds unrealistic.
"You might as well say, 'Don't do business with any Pennsylvania companies,'" since most major firms contribute to legislative campaigns, and are likely to continue doing so, he said.
David M. Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 380-5614.
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