Financial disclosure forms filed by state officials this week show how Pennsylvania is behind the pack, when it comes to restrictions on gifts and perks lawmakers receive.
There’s no limit on the amount of gifts and travel perks Pennsylvania officials can receive. They just need to report presents worth more than $250, and disclose cumulative travel, lodging and meals costs once they exceed $650. That means it was perfectly fine for House Speaker Sam Smith to accept more $1,000 in meals from Harrisburg lobbying firm Greenlee Partners, to name one of many disclosures from legislative leaders.
Peggy Kerns, the director of the National Conference of State Legislators’ Center for Ethics in Government, said more states are toughening their ethics laws, with ten now banning gifts altogether. “It’s really to put this strong line of demarcation between the making of public policy, and the influencing of public policy,” she said. “And it’s really geared toward the public perception. … These states that pass these strict laws are really trying to say to the public, we’re not influenced by them. And we want to make sure that you know we’re not influenced by sitting in the skybox of some professional football game, or going on a trip or outing, or repeatedly having nice dinners bought by lobbyists.”
Kerns, who spent eight years in the Colorado House of Representatives, added, “I don’t know any legislator who could be bought for a steak dinner, or anything like that. However, that’s almost beside the point, because the public looks upon, sometimes, the perks that lawmakers get as meant to influence them.”
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi took a 2,147 dollar trip to Ireland with the State Legislative Leaders Foundation. Governor Corbett received a 530 dollar trophy from the Pittsburgh Penguins, to mark the opening of their new arena. He also accepted a $275 “welcome basket” from the Republican Governors Association, including a tie and cuff links. Governor Rendell may not have worked for NBC News yet in 2010, but he racked up more than $2,000 in hotel room bills while appearing on Meet the Press and Morning Joe.