A research analyst for the state House Democratic Caucus confirmed he was uncomfortable with being paid by the state for the campaign work he was doing, but felt bullied by people in the caucus with more power than he.
On Tuesday, the second day of trial for former Rep. Steve Stetler, defense attorney Joshua Lock continued his cross-examination of research analyst Stephen Webb, during which Webb confirmed he was concerned he could get into trouble for improperly being paid with taxpayer funds for his state job when he, in fact, was working on campaigns and not on his legislative duties.
It was 2006. Webb had just been promoted to project manager and was asked by former Democratic House leader Mike Veon to run the campaign of a western Pennsylvania Democrat, Webb told jurors.
Veon said Webb's employment would be transferred to Veon's district office in the western part of the state, and Webb would continue to be paid by the caucus, as if he was still performing legislative duties, according to Webb.
Pressure: "I was not comfortable with that," he said. "I didn't want to do it, but I was put under pressure."
Webb said he raised concerns about it, but they were "shrugged off" by leaders.
It is illegal for state-paid employees to do such campaign work on the job and illegal to use taxpayer money on campaigns.
"It was a very difficult situation," he said. "I don't want to call them 'strings,' but there was a request made of me. ... (In response) I requested to be removed from (caucus) payroll."
And although his living expenses while out of town were reimbursed by state funds from the caucus -- and although he was still receiving benefits from the caucus -- his employment was moved from the caucus to the privately funded House Democratic Campaign Committee, Webb testified.
He later returned to work as a research analyist for the House Democratic Caucus and received a bonus for his work, Webb confirmed.
He also said legislative workers who volunteered to work on campaigns were rewarded with bonuses and promotions, while those who declined to work on campaigns were passed over for promotions and not considered by party leadership to be "team players."
No direct conversation: But Webb also confirmed he was never told by Stetler to engage in anything illegal or unethical, and has no direct knowledge Stetler was involved in those decisions or was aware of them.
"I never had a conversation (about that) with Rep. Stetler," he said.
Webb did say it's his opinion it would be very difficult for Stetler not to have been aware, but admitted he didn't know for sure.
Stetler was chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee and also chairman of the public policy committee of the House Democratic Caucus.
Cash-strapped: Also taking the witness stand Tuesday was Dan Wiedemer, former executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
He told jurors the committee was cash-strapped and couldn't afford to pay private national firms to conduct opposition research on candidates during election races.
Instead, employees of the House Democratic Caucus -- including former York City Councilman Cameron Texter -- volunteered to conduct opposition research while using comp time earned at their regular jobs, according to testimony.
"It was ultimately Rep. Stetler's decision, as chair," to have caucus staffers keep doing that research, according to Wiedemer, although there was likely input from other House leaders.
"We had a not-perfect system, but a good-enough system," Wiedemer said, and the idea to hire an outside firm "just died on the vine."
The state attorney general's office alleges some of that research was done during normal workdays when caucus employees hadn't earned, or weren't using, comp time to do it. The prosecution alleges Stetler oversaw that.
Opposition research: Wiedemer's testimony revealed that decisions about which employees would do opposition research, and on which candidates, were joint decisions of both caucus leaders and campaign committee leaders.
Under cross-examination, Wiedemer confirmed former state Reps. Mike Veon and Bill DeWeese wielded a great deal of power, in part because they raised huge amounts of money for the party.
Some Democratic colleagues -- known as the "anti's" -- wanted to spread that power around and convinced Stetler to run for party leadership positions, Wiedemer acknowledged.
"It was a desire for a change and a desire for a shake-up," he said.
In fact, Stetler was treated as an outsider, at least in the beginning, Wiedemer said.
"He definitely was not in the inner-inner cabal."
Wiedemer also confirmed that when Stetler took over the campaign committee, he significantly changed the way it worked. He said that while Stetler was in charge, the campaign never tried to coerce caucus staffers to volunteer.
Emails: On direct examination, Wiedemer authenticated emails about opposition research that circulated among a core group of people, including himself and Stetler.
One of them, sent in April 2005, notes that Erin Madison Grace, one of Stetler's policy-committee staffers, has volunteered to coach a state representative's staff on fundraising.
Stetler replied, "I am nervous about Erin calling district office staff to train on fundraising."
Another group email, sent by Wiedemer in April 2004, discusses opposition research jobs and states he would assign those jobs "after getting the green light" from Stetler.
And a May 2006 group email from Wiedemer lists candidate races that will require opposition research. Stetler replied that his own re-election race needed to be added to the list.
The background: Stetler, 62, of York, is charged with four counts of theft and one count each of criminal conspiracy and conflict of interest.
He represented York City and its surrounding area from 1991 to 2006 before stepping down to head the Pennsylvania Economy League.
He was appointed to head the state Department of Revenue in November 2008 but resigned from that post in December 2009, just hours before criminal charges against him were announced as part of the state's Bonusgate investigation.
A total of 25 people with ties to the state House Democratic and Republican caucuses were arrested during the Bonusgate investigation, now in its sixth year, according to The Associated Press.
Twelve Democrats and nine Republicans were convicted or have pleaded guilty as a result of the probe. Two defendants (both Democrats) were acquitted, and charges against a Republican defendant were dropped.
-- Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at 505-5429.