Citizens’ lobby urges House Committee to upgrade and move on bill to regulate gifts to public officials in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania remains one of only ten states that does not limit or ban lobbyists and other special interest advocates from bestowing gifts, entertainment, travel and hospitality perks on legislators and/or other public officials.  In testimony before the House State Government Committee today, Common Cause Pennsylvania called on the committee to tighten up and expand upon a bill that is designed to increase disclosure of gifts to public officials in Pennsylvania.  Under HB-1872, public officials would have to disclose receipt of tangible gifts with a value exceeding $50 (rather than the current $250), and hospitality, entertainment, and travel exceeding $100 (rather than the current $650).  Common Cause Pennsylvania pressed lawmakers to either ban the practice of lobbyists giving gifts, entertainment and travel to public officials, or establish very low limits on what may be given, while also requiring full disclosure of what is provided to official under those limits.

“Pennsylvanians deserve a complete change in its governing culture when it comes to the expectation that supplicants seeking government services or favors should come bearing gifts” said Common Cause Pennsylvania executive director Barry Kauffman.  “When it comes to protecting Pennsylvania government from the undue influence of lobbyist gift-giving Pennsylvania is again bringing up the tail end of the ethics parade” he said.  He implored the lawmakers not to squander the opportunity to take advantage of public outrage over the on-going litany of gift-related scandals.

However, as noted by Kauffman, the bill eliminates the “aggregation clause” which requires the value of all gifts to accumulate in value for a full year.  Therefore, under the current language of the bill, a lobbyist could give a public official numerous gifts under $50 in value in a year, or provide numerous outings that included entertainment and hospitality with a value of under $100 per year – or even numerous entertainment and gift giving incidents on one day – and never have to disclose any of it.  Kauffman indicated that the aggregation requirement must be restored or the law could actually become weaker.    

“The bottom line is, Pennsylvania’s current ethics and lobbying laws are seriously flawed on the subject of gifts, and must be seriously strengthened” said Kauffman.  “Pennsylvanians want and deserve a government they can trust… This is your chance restore that faith in government.”