It’s a bedrock public ethics principle: Public officials cannot use taxpayer funds for political purposes. Period. 

Politicians have lost their positions and gone to prison for breaking this law. 

But it turns out that while state lawmakers have laid out clear prohibitions against taxpayer dollars being used for political activity, they’ve also laid out a clear loophole to allow themselves to break this rule with impunity right before elections. 

Recently, we learned that Erie County Democrat state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro’s official biography page on the taxpayer-funded website of the General Assembly was directing visitors to his campaign social media page for his race for state treasurer — a clear no, no. 

Specifically, Bizzarro’s biography page on the site included a link in the “Stay Connected” section to Clicking on this link, visitors would see a Bizzarro for Treasurer campaign banner and a feed filled with campaign posts. Heading over to the Contact your Representative page on the General Assembly’s official website, and visitors could discover that Bizzarro’s information also included a link to his campaign Twitter/X account. 

A spot-check of several House Republican members did not reveal any similar campaign links. 

According to the General Operating Rules of the Pa. House of Representatives — which Pa. House lawmakers vote on and enact at the start of each legislative session, “A Member’s official State website or State social media website shall not contain a link to their campaign website or campaign social media website.” (Rule 2 E (g)). (Emphasis added.)

Given the clarity of House rules, along with the longstanding and ubiquitously known ethical prohibition against using taxpayer dollars for politics, we submitted notice of the violation to the House Committee on Ethics. 

But it appears lawmakers were one step ahead of us. The exact same rules that prohibit lawmakers from campaigning on taxpayers’ dime also shield lawmakers from consequences of breaking this rule, provided it’s just before an election.

In response to our filing, the Ethics Committee pointed to House Rule 3E, which states, “The Committee shall not have jurisdiction over, shall not accept for review or action and shall return to the complainant with a notice explaining the Committee’s lack of jurisdiction…a complaint filed against a Member during a restricted period.” And a “restricted period” is defined in Rule 1E as “the 60-day period immediately preceding: (1) a primary or general election in an even-numbered year; or (2) an election at which the Member is a candidate.”

Because the Ethics Committee learned within 60 days of the April 23 primary election that Bizzarro’s campaign was illegally benefiting from taxpayer resources, the committee could not take any action. This allowed Bizzarro to hide behind a rule that lawmakers passed to protect their own power and their own offices. 

Fast forward several weeks, and the social media links have been changed to take visitors to the Democrat House Majority Policy Committee Twitter/X page. 

We also reached out to Rep. Bizzarro directly, asking if he was aware of the violation and had any comment on the situation. In response a House Democratic Caucus spokesperson stated the website in question “is not operated or maintained by Rep. Bizzarro, his staff, or any House Democratic staffer.”

As this did not answer our question of whether Rep. Bizzarro had knowledge of the violation, we responded with the following: “Does Rep. Bizzarro provide the information to be included on his bio page, including the contact information? If not, where does the General Assembly retrieve that information? Also, was Rep. Bizzarro aware that the page linked to his campaign social media account? If so, when did he become aware of it.”

We received no response. 

We then reached out directly to the webmaster of the General Assembly’s website, asking how the site managers gather contact information for legislative members and whether the managers had received any requests to change Rep. Bizzarro’s contact information. 

Here, too, we received no response. 

It’s not a stretch to surmise that someone “inside” tipped Bizzarro off that he’d been found out. Yet, Bizzarro spent weeks (Months? Years?) having taxpayer resources boost his campaign. And thanks to “ethics” rules that lawmakers passed for themselves — rules that ironically give lawmakers a shield to break those rules directly before an election — taxpayers have little recourse.

*Disclaimer: Commonwealth Partners’ connected political action committee is engaged in opposition to Rep. Bizzarro’s re-election efforts. 

Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, nonpartisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania. 

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