§ 1103 (b). Seeking Improper Influence. No person shall offer or give to a public official, public employee or nominee or candidate for public office or a member of his immediate family or a business with which he is associated, anything of monetary value, including a gift, loan, political contribution, reward or promise of future employment based on the offeror’s or donor’s understanding that the vote, official action or judgment of the public official or public employee or nominee or candidate for public office would be influenced thereby.
§ 1103 (c). Accepting Improper Influence. No public official, public employee or nominee or candidate for public office shall solicit or accept anything of monetary value, including a gift, loan, political contribution, reward or promise of future employment, based on any understanding of that public official, public employee or nominee that the vote, official action or judgment of the public official or public employee or nominee or candidate for public office would be influenced thereby.
The above comes from the state’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Act.
The state ethics code also requires every public official to disclose gifts valued at more than $250 and travel reimbursements of more than $650 in an annual statement of financial interest document. While the reports allow the public to know about these gifts, disclosure doesn’t have to be specific, meaning key details are sometimes, well, harder to find.
Only 45 of the 253 members of the General Assembly reported receiving a gift in 2022. These handouts totaled more than $175,000, supplementing their base salaries of $102,844.
But, oh those 45.
Reporting from LNP revealed state Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) accepted a trip to Salt Lake City worth $1,300 from the Foundation of Excellence in Education, a group that advocates for education reform.
State Reps. Manuel Guzman (D-Berks) and Joshua Siegel (D-Lehigh) received 2022 World Series tickets worth nearly $2,000.
Rep. Robert Mercuri (R-Allegheny) traveled to Germany on an all-expenses-paid “trade delegation” to see the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra perform, a trip worth more than $11,000.
House Republican leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) accepted more than $6,500 in transportation and hospitality costs to attend events held by the National Conference of State Legislatures in France and Healthcare Information Management Systems Society in Orlando.
“Respectively, these legislative educational opportunities allowed Rep. Cutler to engage with lawmakers from across the country to learn about best practices and to further gain a better understanding of the changing global landscape of the healthcare industry and how that might impact legislation, which has been and continues to be an area of focus for Rep. Cutler’s legislative efforts,” a spokesman said in an emailed statement.
Mercuri racked up more than $30,000 in trip reimbursements from several different companies, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which paid for him to go to Europe to watch the Orchestra play. He topped the list by accepting the most in gifts and travel last year, the newspaper’s analysis shows.
The symphony, which has received nearly $10 million in state funding over the last five years, comped him the coveted tickets. It also picked up the costs for his airfare, hotel, meals, and other incidentals.
“Each legislative trip was purposeful to my work on behalf of our district and the commonwealth, and not paid for with taxpayer dollars,” Mercuri said. “I am committed to always fighting for my constituents and region, and I’ll never stop working to bring good-paying jobs and economic benefits to my community.”
Recently, a select group of Pennsylvania legislators, including then-House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre), got to experience Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming for themselves courtesy of Pace-O-Matic.
The Georgia-based company makes skill games, slot-like machines that currently generate millions in revenue and, in Pennsylvania, operate in a legal and regulatory gray area — one the legislature will play a key role in defining.
The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission is an independent state agency charged with the responsibility of enforcing the Ethics Act. The Ethics Act applies to public officials and public employees. Candidates and nominees for public office are also subject to certain provisions of the Ethics Act.
There are seven Commissioners: one each appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and the Minority Leader of the House, and three appointed by the Governor, only two of whom may be of the same political party. All are appointed without confirmation.
- Shelley Y. Simms, Chairperson
- Michael A. Schwartz, Vice-Chairperson
- Rhonda Hill Wilson, Commissioner
- Paul E. Parsells, Commissioner
- David L. Reddecliff, Commissioner
- Robert P. Caruso, Commissioner
- Vacant, Commissioner
The first step in the enforcement process is identifying a violation. The three most common ways are random audits, investigations or complaints, said Executive Director Mary Fox, who was appointed by the commission in 2022.
This year, 1,019 people statewide failed to file disclosures on time, and 104 people filed deficient statements. All public officials and employees must file, including school board and municipal government members and state staff.
“We’re looking for compliance; that’s our goal,” Fox said. “We follow a process that gives the opportunity to correct the form without penalty.”