HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced three pieces of legislation designed to reform the way the Commonwealth conducts its business -- including the manner in which lucrative contracts are given to law firms.
State Rep. Doug Reichley, R-Lehigh, said there is limited time to get the legislation passed and hopes state Democrats join his cause. It would require an open-bidding process for contracts over $100,000 and any executive agency to post contracts that are up for extension and prevent no-bid legal contracts being awarded under an emergency procurement provision.
"There is this pay-to-play mentality that transported from Philadelphia up to Harrisburg and has sort of taken hold," Reichley said.
"We have to get away from this idea of awarding campaign contributors very selective contracts in almost a secretive manner. We need more transparency in the operation of government and that will bring about lesser costs and more savings for taxpayers."
It's not just Gov. Ed Rendell's oft-criticized legal contracts that would be subject to the open-bidding process. Any contract -- legal services, computer services, financial analysis, etc... -- would need to be open for competition.
In Rendell's suit against Janssen Pharmaceutica, the selection of Houston firm Bailey Perrin Bailey to represent the State has been questioned by Janssen attorneys. They have moved to have BPB, which has similar cases in other states and contributed $75,000 directly to Rendell's last campaign, disqualified because of the contingent fee agreement.
"The contingent fee contract whereby the (Governor's Office of General Counsel) retained Bailey Perrin was not the subject of any competitive bidding or legislative authorization," Janssen claims in its June Motion to Disqualify Counsel.
"Rather, the contract appears to be the product of private negotiations between the (OGC) and (BPB) over a period of several months in 2006."
Bailey Perrin Bailey said in a response that the issue of campaign contributions is not relevant. Reichley agreed that no-bid contracts are not yet against the law.
No decision has been made by the judge in the Janssen case.
"In fairness to the governor, what he did was within the letter of the law," Reichley said. "He didn't break the law. It's not illegal what he did."
Another contract for which Rendell has received criticism gave his former firm nearly $2 million for work on a project that would have made Interstate 80 a toll road. The federal government recently denied Rendell's proposal.
"All that work for nothing," Reichley said.
That didn't stop Ballard Spahr & Ingersoll from earning $1.8 million for its work. Corbett had given the Philadelphia firm the no-bid contract in May 2007 under an emergency procurement provision, Reichley said.
"The issue of leasing I-80 was not a manmade or natural disaster," Reichley said. "It was highly questionable to rush to award this contract under the emergency provision."
And that's the subject of one of the bills. All are being introduced as amendments to existing laws because there are only three voting days left before the November election.
Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Attacking the award of professional contracts at the height of the campaign season is not unexpected."
He also told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette in May, "Ballard is a large firm whose namesake is a nationally recognized expert in the field of tax exemption of tax exempt financing and with numerous lawyers familiar with many aspects of private-public partnership."
The other piece of legislation will require all existing contracts up for extension to be posted on the Department of General Services Web site. Reichley said competitors that recently sought a software contract felt shut out because it was quietly extended.
Reichley spoke more about the other two pieces of legislation.
"When you realize there is a large dollar figure involved with this (Janssen) litigation, with the potential award, it's something that has to go through the open-bidding process," he said.
"You don't go to a law firm that's given thousands in campaign contributions to the governor and say, 'OK. You can handle this now.'"
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.