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. The House and Senate changed their chambers’ rules to prohibit the acceptance of cash gifts from lobbyists, but the law hasn’t changed. One of the reasons the law wasn’t changed was because banning only cash gifts could raise 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. Lawmakers are 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. As long as they follow the rules, pretty much anything is fair game.
That might finally be changing. On November 18th, the House State Government Committee advanced House Bill 1945. Per the co-sponsorship memo:
“The legislation will prohibit public officers, public employees and candidates for public office from accepting a gift of cash in any amount. The same individuals will be prohibited from accepting any gift that has either a fair market value or an aggregate actual cost of more than $50 from any one person in a calendar year. In addition, public officers, public employees and candidates for public office will be prohibited from accepting hospitality, transportation or lodging that has either a fair market value of an aggregate actual cost of more than $500 from any one person in a calendar year…Gifts and hospitality, transportation and lodging received that attain these thresholds will be reported on the individuals’ Statement of Financial Interests along with the circumstances surrounding the receipt of the same.”
At CAP, we generally aren’t a fan of banning things or unnecessary regulations. However, given the sheer number of public officials from Pennsylvania who end up in prison, we think that enacting these changes makes a lot of sense. There is room for improvement in HB 1945, but it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
We will be keeping our eye on the legislation and will keep you informed about its progress.