In late 2014 and early 2015, five current and former members of the General Assembly were charged with bribery and other charges related to their acceptance of cash “gifts” from a lobbyist. Despite a flurry of legislation at the time to ban cash gifts, it never happened. The House and Senate changed their chambers’ rules to prohibit the acceptance of cash gifts from lobbyists, but the law hasn’t changed. The law hasn’t changed because banning only cash gifts would raise some very uncomfortable questions for lawmakers about the kinds of gifts they can still accept.
What kinds of gifts can they accept? Virtually anything as long as they follow the disclosure rules. In order to comply with Pennsylvania’s lax ethics laws, lawmakers are simply required to disclose gifts of more than $250 per year from any source and transportation, lodging, and hospitality worth more than $650. Over the years those gifts have included everything from Super Bowl tickets to Turkish rugs.
At CAP, we generally aren’t a fan of banning things and unnecessary regulations. However, given the sheer number of public officials from Pennsylvania who end up in prison we think that enacting a commonsense “gift ban” makes a lot of sense.
CAP member Representative Rick Saccone introduced HB 39 in early 2017 to accomplish that goal. Many attempts at banning gifts to lawmakers are impossible to enforce because they are written in a way that is overly broad and includes activities that could be genuinely related to lawmaking. Rep. Saccone’s legislation does not fall into that trap.
Despite being introduced and assigned to the House State Government Committee in January of this year, there has never been a hearing on this or any other gift ban related legislation. Citizens of the Commonwealth have been victimized by corrupt politicians of both parties for years and rightly have a low opinion of their government. We believe that passage of this legislation would certainly show that lawmakers are getting the message and are willing to take concrete actions to get their house in order.
Please take a moment to email your Representative. Ask them to become a cosponsor of HB 39. Encourage them to speak to the Chairman of the State Government Committee, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe about scheduling a hearing and a vote on the measure. It is going to take a lot to restore people’s faith in Pennsylvania state government, but this is a step in the right direction.