By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau
A key state lawmaker has demanded that the state Ethics Commission determine whether Attorney General Kathleen Kane broke the law when her twin sister got a promotion and a raise four months after Kane took office.
Kane’s sister, Ellen Granahan, was hired in 2008 by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett. In April, four months after Kane took office, Granahan received a promotion and a $13,652-a-year raise. Granahan was named chief deputy attorney general in charge of a task force aimed at cracking down on child predators. The attorney general’s office maintains that Granahan does not report to the attorney general and the decision to promote her was not made by Kane.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, the chairman of the powerful state government committee, said that steps taken by the attorney general to insulate her from oversight of her twin were inadequate.
“I can’t hire my wife or daughter and say “You report to my district office staff,” Metcalfe said. “That’s a no-brainer.”
Pennsylvania law does not specifically bar relatives from working in the state office. There is a management directive from the governor that prohibits workers in some state agencies from being direct supervisors of relatives but the attorney general’s office is not bound by that rule. State ethics law does prohibit public officials from using their offices for the financial benefit of themselves or family members.
Robert Caruso, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said he could not confirm whether a complaint had been filed about Granahan’s promotion. But, once a complaint is received, the commission has 60 days to make an initial determination of whether to proceed with a full-blown investigation. An investigation can take as long as a year.
The ethics commission is routinely asked by public officials to determine whether a situation creates a conflict of interest or whether steps they have taken to mitigate a conflict are sufficient, Caruso said.
The commission has issued 65 such advisories this year. In many cases, those advisories were requested by local officials trying to determine if their associations with other community groups created conflicts.
Kane did not request an advisory opinion from the ethics commission.
A Kane spokesman said staff in the attorney general’s office determined that the facts at the heart of a 2009 advisory were sufficiently similar that they felt there was no need to request another advisory.
In that case, the York County district attorney asked whether he could hire his son without having a conflict of interest. The solution was: The hiring involved the county human resources director in addition to someone from the DA’s office. The ethics commission also noted that it would be illegal to create a framework for working around a conflict of interest only when a specific conflict arose.
Caruso said that the commission looks at prior advisories when determining whether a conflict has taken place. But, if the commission determines that the facts in the two cases are not exactly the same, they could reach a different conclusion.
State Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin County, asked for an advisory opinion after he took office. As an attorney, Teplitz wondered if taking a job with a firm that provides legal services to the Delaware River Port Authority created a conflict. The commission provided some cautions — noting that outside income must be disclosed on statements of financial interests — but did not suggest that the job would inherently create a conflict of interest.
One of Teplitz’s first acts as senator was to found a bipartisan reform caucus. Friday, he said that Granahan is by all accounts an experienced prosecutor who is qualified to lead the child predator unit.
“I am not familiar with the process the attorney general’s office uses on personnel matters,” Teplitz said. “That said, it’s always important for all in public office to be mindful of not just actual conflicts, but also the appearance of conflicts of interest.”
For his part, Metcalfe said that if the ethics commission determines that Kane did not violate the ethics law, he will look to address the matter through legislation.
“We’ll be tracking what happens and depending on the ruling that could give me ideas about how to amplify the ethics law,” Metcalfe said.
Finnerty works in the Harrisburg Bureau for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cnhipa.