Only an independent blue-ribbon panel can properly investigate the Sandusky scandal
Pennsylvania has long been disgraced by outrageous political corruption.
Some here say that Pennsylvanians have a high tolerance for corruption, and that’s part of the problem. It takes a lot to shame Pennsylvanians.
Now Pennsylvanians find themselves, perhaps predictably, deeply disgraced and shamed by the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
This time, shame is not enough.
Pennsylvanians have a moral obligation to demand a full and unvarnished account of what happened and why, with recommendations to ensure it won’t happen again.
Only an independent panel can thoroughly investigate and examine the many failures of Pennsylvania government in this case, and issue a full report about what happened, and why.
Some of the shameful facts, as we know them, speak for themselves:
• For more than a dozen years, Pennsylvania law enforcement and public welfare officials failed to stop the politically well-connected Sandusky.
• Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett looked the other way while running for governor, even as he made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from board members of Sandusky’s charity
Both candidates for Pennsylvania attorney general have said they will investigate the stunning failings of the AG’s office in the Sandusky case.
But that’s not enough.
The failures of state government in the Sandusky case are extraordinary, and demand an extraordinarily thorough and independent examination.
The AG’s office and its staff are hobbled by too many conflicts of interest to investigate itself, its former attorney general, and fellow staff members.
No matter which party’s candidate is elected attorney general — Democrat Kathleen Kane or Republican David Freed — accusations of partisan or political motives will mar the results, and only damage the prospects of changing anything.
Just as importantly, a criminal investigation led by the AG’s office, by its very nature, will be incomplete, as it can only focus on criminal misconduct.
It may well be, for example, that Sandusky was enabled by worsening ethical problems in Pennsylvania government, beyond the purview of any grand jury, or criminal trial.
For example, Pennsylvania has no limit on political donations.
Pennsylvania, since 1980, also has an elected attorney general, who is allowed to both run for governor and to collect unlimited campaign contributions, as we saw with Corbett.
Did these conditions — all perfectly legal — foster a perfect storm of ethical misbehavior that enabled Jerry Sandusky to rape children?
Should laws concerning campaign contribution limits and the election of the attorney general be changed?
Much of the mistrust of Tom Corbett was caused by Tom Corbett.
Tom Corbett unapologetically pushed the limits of ethical propriety by brazenly catering to a variety of special interest political positions favored by some of his biggest political donors
Common Cause reports that Corbett in 2011 took at least $1.6 million from Marcellus Shale interests even as he advocated not taxing the same industry. (The Sandusky case, sadly, only created a diversion from Corbett’s Marcellus misbehavior.)
By taking large contributions — read legalized ‘bribes’ — from those he helps, Corbett has undermined his own credibility in the Sandusky case, and other cases languishing in the AG’s office.
It gives the perception of government and law enforcement for sale — something every Pennsylvanian should be concerned about.
It doesn’t help that, at the same time Corbett was going to bat for his pals at Shell Oil, he proposed drastic budgets cuts for Pennsylvania schools and students.
The perception is that kids at school obviously can’t afford much in the way of political contributions to Tom Corbett, and were overlooked.
Is that what happened to Sandusky’s young victims at Penn State?
To answer these and other troubling questions, a blue ribbon panel should be appointed by the legislature and/or the attorney general’s office, and vested with full subpoena and investigatory powers.
The panel should be composed not of lawyers and politicians — the usual conflicted suspects.
Prominent citizens from all walks of life — academia, business, industry, and even journalists — should be appointed.
The panel should be tasked with making recommendations to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and legislative committees.
Most importantly, a full and readable report should be prepared and issued to the people of Pennsylvania.
The now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission produced such a report in the early 1990s.
The Crime Commission’s no-holds-barred report on the misdeeds of Pennsylvania Attorney General Ernie Preate led to the indictment, prosecution, and resignation of AG Preate.
(Ironically, the independent nature of the Crime Commission caused its own demise; threatened and angry politicians from both parties killed the agency following the release of its potent report on Preate.)
What made reports from the Pennsylvania Crime Commission so valuable and enlightening was that they included detailed interviews with senior AG office staff, state police troopers, law enforcement officials, criminals and others.
These insider stories shed light on structural problems in the AG’s office, and other failures that would never have come to light at a criminal trial.
The shameful facts, spread out for all to see, compelled corrective action.
That’s precisely what’s needed now in the Sandusky case.
Did Pennsylvania’s well-known tolerance of corruption contribute to the rape of children at the hands of Jerry Sandusky? Are the shameful facts of the Sandusky case still being covered-up?
These are some of the troubling questions now before us.
The answers to the hard questions won’t be found by simply “talking to Corbett,” as Corbett himself has suggested.
Everyone around Corbett, with any connection to the case, should be called to testify, under penalty of perjury.
Nothing less will give full understanding to what happened here.
Nothing less will begin to correct the ills now implicating every Pennsylvanian.
Only an independent, blue ribbon panel can accomplish this.
Everything else is, well, just a continuation of the shameful cover-up.