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No state budget for Pa., but lawmakers continue to raise cash

HARRISBURG — The state’s budget impasse, now approaching the four-month mark, has halted the flow of commonwealth money to schools and many social service agencies. It hasn’t stopped the steady circuit of near-constant fund raising by state lawmakers.

A dinner reception at the posh Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in the Laurel Highlands.

A $250-per-couple poolside reception.

A VIP reception and lobster dinner.

Interviews with lobbyists and an examination of publicly available lists of political fundraisers show dozens of events since the state began a new fiscal year July 1 without an enacted budget. The impasse appears to have had no impact on the heavy schedule of fundraising that state lawmakers must maintain, from less-swanky events such as summer golf outings or fire hall dinners in their districts to Harrisburg-based events during the fall legislative session.

“It’s a real commentary on the priorities in Harrisburg,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.

Legislators counter that raising money is a necessary part of remaining in office, budget impasse or not.

“Those that are going to be running against you, they’re not going to stop [raising money] because there’s no budget,” said Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, chairman of the state House Republican Campaign Committee. Mr. Mustio is voluntarily not taking a paycheck during the impasse.

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Typically, events are scheduled months in advance, they say, long before the current budget stalemate came to pass, bringing budget pain for school districts and non-profits like food banks and domestic violence shelters.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” said Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, who hosted two golf outings this summer. “We are under pressure to raise money for ourselves and for our caucus.”

Rep. Peter Daley, D-California, said he has hosted the same golf event at the same time of year for the past 25 years.

“Does it send a bad signal? I guess some people can interpret that,” he said. Mr. Daley said he and other House members have been in constant communication with school districts about weathering budget problems caused by the lack of a state budget.

State Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, who has also given up his legislative salary during the budget stalemate, said ongoing fundraising events don’t mean legislators aren’t doing their jobs or working hard to bring about consensus on a spending plan.

Furthermore, legislators say, the election calendar doesn’t allow for much fund-raising downtime, particularly for House members.

All 203 state House members must run for re-election every two years; they will all be on the ballot in 2016. Pennsylvania’s 50 state senators face re-election every four years; half the Senate will be on the ballot in 2016. Candidates must circulate and file their petitions in January and February of next year.

“The elections are on the calendar. They are coming,” said Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, who heads the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne, who is chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said despite perceptions, campaigning and governing are separate activities.

“The House Democratic Campaign Committee has absolutely nothing to do with budget negotiations. They have no role in budget negotiations,” he said.

Mr. Leach also pointed out that political action committees and outside expenditure groups are continuing their fundraising unabated.

The Legislature isn’t alone in its need for campaign cash. Last week, Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson of Centre blasted Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for raising money while the commonwealth was still without a budget.

“He’s committed to helping elect people who share his vision for Pennsylvania,” said Mike Mikus, a spokesman for the governor’s political action committee, Rebuild Pennsylvania. The governor’s spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, said Mr. Wolf went to Washington for meetings with the congressional delegation about oil train safety, though he did attend political events in the evening.

This article was written by Kate Giammarise from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.