Indictment doesn’t stop PA Senators from returning Farnese to leadership

State lawmakers are only forced out of leadership positions for *certain* indictments.

Twitter via @larryfarnese/Wikimedia Commons

Pa. Sen. Larry Farnese was re-elected by his colleagues to a leadership role on the Senate Democratic Caucus yesterday. The lawmaker, who represents parts of South Philly, Center City and the Riverwards, will serve as secretary for a second two-year term.

He’ll hold this position despite facing federal indictment, and he’s allowed to do so under Pennsylvania Senate Rules, which only require lawmakers to resign from leadership positions under certain indictments.

You can find the information in Rule 35 of the Rules of the Senate of Pennsylvania. To its credit, Pennsylvania Senate Rules outline what happens to members indicted of crimes, unlike nearby states New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia. Then again, that could be because Pennsylvania ends up with so many lawmakers under indictment.   

The rule, “Status of Members Indicted or Convicted of a Crime,” states Senators would be relieved of their leadership duties (but still allowed to serve as Senators) if the indictment deals with conduct directly related to their position.  

Farnese’s indictment is politically related, but not to his role as a senator or Secretary of the Democratic Caucus. The Feds have accused him of bribing a committeewoman with $6,000 to vote for him in a 2011 ward leader election. The money allegedly funded a study-abroad trip for the committeewoman’s daughter. Farnese pleaded not guilty.      

He didn’t respond to a request for comment. Neither did State Sen. Jay Costa, floor leader of the Democratic Senate Caucus.

Farnese is not the only Pa senator enjoying a post-crime leadership role. On the Republican side, Sen. Pat Browne was elected to lead the Appropriations Committee. Browne, of Allentown, was arrested for his third DUI in 2015.

David Thornburgh, President and CEO of the local watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said most indictments should force politicians out from leadership roles, aside from minor offenses.      

“I’m not sure why that should be restricted just to your official duties,” he said. “The notion is you wouldn’t want someone under some criminal cloud to be serving.”

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