In Wake of Philly Scandal, Senators Introduce Gift Bans

cash banJust over a week ago, the news broke that the Attorney General’s office shut down a flawed sting operation that taped at least four state legislators accepting cash gifts from a lobbyist; now, three state senators have introduced legislation to ban such gifts.

One such plan comes cooperatively from Senators Baker and Smucker, which would ban all monetary gifts to legislators, and they intend to introduce additional legislation that would prohibit such gifts to Senate staff.

“As revelations and allegations about the conduct of public officials in Pennsylvania continue to weaken public confidence in the General Assembly, it is imperative that we make significant, immediate changes,” Senator Baker said. “A ban on cash gifts to legislators will be a strong step forward.”

“Banning cash gifts to legislators is long overdue,” Senator Smucker said. “As recent events have unfortunately demonstrated, Pennsylvania continues to be behind the curve nationally in regard to strong ethics rules and laws. We must, and we can, do better.”

The Leach legislation is similar, but also includes a ban on campaign contributions given in cash over $50.

“We’ve all read recently about allegations of legislators accepting large cash gifts from a lobbyist. I obviously do not know the truth of any of those allegations, however in reading the press accounts of the investigation and the allegations that emerged, I was troubled to learn that there was no legal prohibition against accepting such gifts if they had been offered,” he said.

Leach added, “I understand that if a gift exceeds the limit, it must be disclosed. However, the nature of cash makes it much more difficult to detect a failure to disclose such as was alleged in the recent investigation. It is critical that there be the maximum possible transparency so that the public may know who is attempting to influence their lawmakers. Cash in envelopes is antithetical to this transparency.”

The renewed fervor for a ban on cash gifts is clearly the result of the Philadelphia sting investigation. According to the investigation, State Rep. Ronald G. Waters (D-Philadelphia) reportedly accepted $7,650 in bribes, while State Rep. Vanessa Brown (D-Philadelphia) accepted $4,000, State Rep. Michelle Brownlee accepted $3,500 (D-Philadelphia), and State Rep. Louise Bishop (D-Philadelphia) accepted $1,500. Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes was also implicated for accepting a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet. All those allegedly accused are African American and members of the Democratic Party.

The reasons for not pursuing charges in the three year investigation were fourfold, according to Kane’s office: traditional law enforcement techniques and reporting were not used; the case was poorly managed, the credibility of the confidential informant was gravely damaged; and there was evidence of racial targeting.

At this point, it doesn’t appear that anything will be done with the tapes from this investigation, but these new bills in the Senate may serve to deter similar incidents in the future.

6 Responses

  1. They should really created a position in state government that enforces existing laws regarding bribes. Oh, wait.

    Ladies and Gentleman, meet Kathleen Corbett.

  2. The best way to fix this is to take away the power. Make it a part time legislature with strict term limits. Think about it, these are the most powerful people. The draw up their own districts to protect themselves. Even the governor, atty general, aud general and treasurer are term limited. These people are just fat pigs at the trough.

  3. A farce, indeed. Especially the emphasis on cash gifts – as if it makes any difference whether it is cash or something else of value? Republicans want to look like they are doing something, but don’t dare offend their owners by banning things like ALEC “scholarships” used to attend lavish private gatherings where they are told what bills to introduce. Report ALL contributions, gifts, and things of value, and future promises thereof, no matter what form, no matter how large or small, no matter if direct or indirect. With today’s electronic software and recordkeeping, it is no burden whatsoever to report EVERYTHING. But, our Princes of Thieves in Harrisburg would never accept anything that would limit their lavish lifestyles.

  4. Maybe someday we’ll also ban billionaires from contributing millions to campaign war chests via secret offshore corporations. And stop politicians from accepting $100,000 “speaker’s fees” from their big-business bosses. And limit junkets, overseas “fact-finding trips”, and “tourism delegations” all on the taxpayers’ dime. And stop office holders from ever becoming lobbyists, and stop lobbyists from ever buying anything for an office holder.

    But until that day comes, attempts to bust small-time politicos for taking $100 bribes is like rousting shoplifters while holding the door for Dillinger and Capone. It’s a farce.

  5. In my day, prosecutors put you in jail for this kind of stuff. Of course, they also wrapped their heads in towels and wore nightgown while they handed you the cash.

  6. Ban all gifts. No state employee is permitted to accept even a cup of coffee. Elected state employees should follow the same. No gifts for anyone. If you say just cash they will give a gift of the same value.

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