Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Which State Reps Post Their Expenses?

Transparency in government is frequently a matter of policy requiring a group vote. There are few areas for individuals to take action on their own. However, here in Pennsylvania state representatives and senators have such a choice. Each elected official has a brief official state website, providing committee memberships, district, basic biographical information, contact data, and little else. The party caucuses (House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans) link to fuller websites for each official in their caucus. The caucus sites for state representatives follow very clear templates; the design for Republican and Democratic templates vary but contain many of the same elements. It looks as though each representative selects from a list of options or asks for specific items to be placed on the left hand sidebar. Most include biographical information, district information, news, contact information, images, and related data. Most Democrats have a “how we voted” link. Representatives in rural areas had links to hunting and fishing license information.

One option available to representatives of both parties is their expense data. This is the amount spent on salaries for staff, office rent, insurance, janitorial services, and things like that. It can be provided in annual or monthly form. You would think that elected officials who were in favor of transparency would take whatever individual actions they could in that direction. I decided to check and see which state representatives made this information available on their websites. Using the caucus websites, ( for Democrats and for Republicans), I clicked through all of the legislators on each caucus and then made notes on a printed copy of the full alphabetical list of state representatives from the state assembly website. This is tedious but easily replicated. I encourage interested voters to double check their own state rep and also encourage reporters to verify my findings. I think this is important.

These are the state representatives that make their expenses available on their website (name of rep, party, district number):
Ryan P. Aument (Rep) 4
Mike Carroll (Dem) 118
Jim Christiana (Rep) 15
Eugene DePasquale (Dem) 95
Gordon Denlinger (Rep) 99
Jaret Gibbons (Dem) 10
Keith Gillespie (Rep) 47
Glen Grell (Rep) 87
Seth M Grove (Rep) 196
Susan C Helm (Rep) 104
David S Hickernell (Rep) 98
Sid Michaels Kavulich (Dem) 114
Jim Marshall (Rep) 14
Kevin P Murphy (Dem) 113
Mark T Mustio (Rep) 44
Josh Shapiro (Dem) 153
Justin J. Simmons (Rep) 131
Matthew Smith (Dem) 42
RoseMarie Swanger (Rep) 102
Randy Vulakovich (Rep) 30

Here’s some of the things I noticed. No one in a leadership position in either party makes their expenses public. That surely sends a signal to the House in general and not an especially good one. Two candidates looking at higher office, Josh Shapiro who is running for Montgomery County Commissioner, and Eugene DePasquale who is mulling a run for state Auditor General, are on the list. There are 203 state representatives and only 20 have their expenses on their website. That is 10%. You can’t tell me the rest don’t have it up there because it’s too difficult to do. At least 15 reps managed to have the trout stocking schedule on their site, and a number had the antlerless deer license availablility. It can’t be more difficult to put expenses up than to link to the trout stocking schedule. There are definitely some names I expected to be on the list that weren’t. Nor is inclusion of expenses district dependent. Rick Taylor, who previously represented the 151st district, posted his expenses. The current rep for the 151st district, Todd Stephens, doesn’t.

Seeing how much your rep spends on newspaper subscriptions or bottled water won’t tell you a lot about how they will govern, and you can’t compare the staff expenses of someone with a compact district who only has one office to someone with a larger district who has several offices to staff. But what matters is the willingness of our elected officials to make this information public.

If your state rep is not on the list you might ask him or her about it. Next year when the house is up for election ask the candidates if they will make this information public. It is one campaign promise that is easily kept.

The brevity of the list, and the ratio of Democrats to Republicans, disappointed me. I had hoped for better. Certainly given the poor showing in this regard any rhetoric on the importance of open records or transparency will sound very hypocritical.

Tomorrow: the state senate


Anonymous said...

I was not able to find the staff expenses for some of the Reps, including the one I am most interested in, Rep. Shapiro. Can you give a link to where you found the amount spent on staff?

AboveAvgJane said...

Expenses is one of the links on his left sidebar. That is the legislative expenses. If you are looking for campaign expenses, good luck to you. I don't think the county puts that information online.