PITTSBURGH — Gov. Tom Corbett built his 2010 campaign around his prosecution of state legislators who illegally mixed politics with public service, but Corbett has held numerous meetings with his top campaign aides in the governor's office since he took office, prompting critics to suggest that he is using a double standard, according to a report published Tuesday.
Corbett's official schedule shows campaign advisers regularly attended meetings with him and his state-paid aides since 2011, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
A spokesman for Republican Corbett, who is working to fend off a tough re-election challenge from Democrat Tom Wolf, defended the practice on grounds that he wanted input from all his advisers.
The participation of campaign aides was "appropriate and legal," said Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni.
But watchdog groups and lawyers who defended some of the ex-lawmakers who were sent to prison for corruption while Corbett was the state attorney general told the paper the documents seem to contradict the clear line he sought to draw at the time.
"It's difficult to prove it's illegal, but it certainly is an appearance of impropriety," said Joel Sansone, a Pittsburgh lawyer who represented former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, one of two defendants who are still in prison.
"People should be judged by the standards by which they judged others," said William Fetterhoff, a Harrisburg lawyer who represented two House staff members charged in the corruption probe — a Democrat who was acquitted and a Republican who was convicted.
In all, 22 House members and staffers — 13 Democrats and nine Republicans — were convicted or pleaded guilty to charges involving the use of taxpayer resources for political or personal purposes in an investigation that was launched in 2007.
Eric Epstein of the reform group Rock the Capitol said Corbett's mixing of political and policy advice "is a radical departure from the brand he established."
"Despite his efforts to mislead voters, Tom Corbett is just typical Harrisburg politician who thinks the rules don't apply to him," said Wolf campaign spokesman Mike Mikus.
Documents reviewed by the newspaper also show weekly meetings this year among Corbett, his chief of staff, Leslie Gromis Baker, and his campaign manager, Mike Barley. But Barley said the meetings are conducted more often by telephone than at the Capitol.
The main difference between the cases Corbett prosecuted and meetings between government and campaign staff members is that "there's no tax money involved," Barley said.
J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester, said there is a "significant difference" between having a campaign adviser at the Capitol and paying a campaign operative with state money.
Barley said Corbett "can't stop being governor" and must handle governmental and political duties. He said Corbett has "established a very strong record on reform."