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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, January 12, 2015

Time to Ban Local Gov't Gifts

Everyone in the land of midnight payraises claims to be shocked, shocked that two Philadelphia state lawmakers stand accused of accepting illegal gifts. But there's no real enthusiasm to change the status quo. As Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman fatalistically explains, "We can keep changing laws and keep making new laws. If they're going to break them, they're going to break them." So if you're hoping for reform from the second highest paid state legislature in the country ($84,012/year plus $157/day per diem), don't hold your breath. But local governments can follow the example set by Governor Tom Wolf.

While the state legislature looks after its own, to the exclusion of the rest of us, Governor Tom Wolf is imposing an absolute gift ban on his appointees, as well as anyone else working in the executive branch.

Under current state law, legislators can accept whatever they are given, from Super Bowl tickets to summer vacations at the Jersey Shore. The only restriction is that gifts worth more than $250 must be reported. If it's for airline tickets or a hotel room, the limit is set at $650.

You can still take the gift. You just have to report it.  Thus State Representative Mike Schlossberg, who also claims to be an author and social media consultant, took $1,389 from Planned Parenthood for transportation and lodging, but reports no other gifts.

Of course that's nonsense. Schlossberg, along with most Lehigh Valley elected officials, are regularly comped at numerous events for the pretty people, from baseball tickets to the hockey arena Musikfest.  One of my Facebook friends, himself a former Bethlehem City official, explains.
This kind of stuff goes on all of the time and it's wrong. The favor of public officials is constantly being curried with tickets, travel, meals, parties and all sorts of other 'gifts' from those with a financial or policy interest in having public officials as their 'friends.' In the City of Bethlehem top ranking officials regularly receive tickets and other benefits from city vendors. Why? It's human nature to reward kindness with kindness. One can only imagine the stakes at higher levels of government. It may be legal to accept 'gifts' up to a certain value, but it sure isn't ethical.
Former reformer and now State Rep. Russ Diamond used to condemn this legal extortion. Now that he's in office, it's just fine.

The Daily News' John Baer sums up. what is needed in Harrisburg.
Ban gifts. Stop taking annual automatic raises. Start paying more than 1 percent of salary for health-care coverage. Give up legislative slush funds. And stop taking expense money without receipts. (Who else does that?)
It's actually needed everywhere. Our state legislative leaders are better known for serving time in prison than ethical reform,. So just as Governor Wolf is doing what he can to shame the legislature, I'd suggest that it's time for local government to adopt their own ethical reforms. Nothing prevents a County or City Council from adopting an ordinance barring any elected or appointed official in that government from accepting gifts of any sort, and imposing fines and disciplinary actions for transgressions. And there is no justification  at all for the medical benefits paid for part-time members of Easton and Bethlehem City Council

I have two requests from you. One, what ethical reforms do you believe should be imposed on local government officials. Two, can you provide actual examples of elected officials being comped with sports tickets, vacations or meals?


Anonymous said...

Humm... current or former elected officials?

Allow us anonymous scum to slander those who are unethical?

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are a troll so what you say anonymously will be worthless. But to those who actually travel in those circles, I'd like details about public officials seen at events that require tickets. I want names, dates and places. The fact that they are seen is not an indication they are doing anything wrong. But I want to have a factual basis for asking questions.

Anonymous said...

This should be banned in all levels of government. The ban should include harsh penilties for offenders. Maybe then we can get to government for All the people not just those with $.

Gary Cordner said...

This is a pretty funny comment coming from a body that doesn't seem to hesitate to pass new laws designed to regulate the rest of us -- "We can keep changing laws and keep making new laws. If they're going to break them, they're going to break them."

Gary Cordner said...

I agree completely that gifts and perks should be carefully monitored and strictly limited (and genuine gifts of any substantial value should become the property of the governing body, not the office holder). Is there any requirement that those who offer gifts and perks to public officials have to report them?