Common Cause Applauds Governor Wolf’s Ethics Package

Campaign Finance Reform – Pay-to-Play – Gift Ban – Outside Income Disclosure – Gift Restrictions Proposed For Statutory Enforcement

Major elements of Common Cause/PA’s long-standing government reform agenda came into play today when Gov. Wolf announced at a Pittsburgh press conference that he is pressing for sweeping reforms.  Wolf’s proposals would help Pennsylvania catch up with some of the best practices applied in other states, in some cases for over four decades.

“Public trust is what this is all about” said Wolf.  Common Cause/PA executive director Barry Kauffman agreed, saying “Whenever studies of the quality of government, or rankings of corruption in government are released, Pennsylvania seemingly is always one of the cellar dwellers.  It’s time to change that reality and reputation.  Pennsylvanians need permanent statutory protection from abuses that too frequently fill our TV screens and newspapers.  Common Cause/PA welcomes Governor Wolf’s proposals and hopes his leadership can finally bring more honorable government to the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

Gifts to Public Officials: Common Cause/PA helped lead the three-decade fight that led to passage of the lobbying disclosure law in 2006.  While a dramatic improvement over prior lobbying oversight, it had a gaping loophole with regard to gifts.  Pennsylvania remains one of just ten states for which there is no limit on gifts that can be provided to public officials. Wolf’s proposal, along with others, such as those introduced Rep. Rick Saccone and Sen. Rob Tepltiz, would give taxpayers far more protection from those who would attempt to influence public policy by generating special relationships with officials through gifts.  Common Cause has called for either a complete ban on gifts to public officials, or in the alternative extremely low limits on what gifts could be given along with full disclosure of the value and type of gift, and the date and circumstances under which it is given.

Disclosure of Outside Compensation:  Pennsylvania law currently requires public officials to disclose the sources of outside income, but not the amounts received.  Common Cause/PA supports Wolf’s call for disclosing the value of all outside income, and promotes requiring the disclosure of the amount received from each source to be identified so voters can understand what sources have the ability to have the biggest influence on the official.  However, Common Cause/PA would go further to prevent government officials from serving on Boards for pay if that entity does business with the government.  Common Cause/PA also would require a brief description on disclosure reports specifying what the official did to earn the outside income to ensure officials do not have “no work jobs” with special interests.

Pay-to-Play:  Pay-to-play schemes emerge far too often in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania’s taxpayers should be assured that they always get the best quality products and services for their tax dollars, and vendors should never get contracts in exchange for gifts or campaign contributions.  Governor Wolf makes a strong start by calling for disclosure of all campaign contributions by those holding or seeking government contracts.  Common Cause/PA supports that requirement, but calls for even stricter standards to prohibit the awarding of a government contract to any entity that has provided a campaign contribution to the official, and to prohibit a contractor from making a campaign contribution to that official for the duration of the contract and two years beyond.

Enforcement of Lobbying Disclosure:  Common Cause/PA supports the Governor’s call for stronger enforcement of the lobbying disclosure law.  One of the things that the Governor can do right now, without legislation, is to make major upgrades to the Department of State’s (DOS) data systems and website.  By upgrading DOS technology to make it fully searchable and user-friendly, reporters, citizens, public officials and even lobbyists’ competitors can build more oversight and accountability into the system.

Campaign Finance Reform:  “Pennsylvania’s failure to limit the amount of money that can be given to political candidates has been an embarrassment to the Keystone state for decades.  The lack of limits creates too many temptations for wrong-doing.  Furthermore, it leads to uncompetitive elections, and biases the decision making processes of government.” said Kauffman.  Since the early 1970s Common Cause/PA has been pushing for the kinds of contribution limits most other states have enacted to protect the integrity of their elections and government.  This is an essential reform that must be adopted to restore clean and fair elections, accountability of elected officials, and sound decision-making to Pennsylvania government.

“Behind nearly every scandal in Pennsylvania you will find a money trail” said Kauffman.  “Whether it’s campaign contributions, gifts, or the kind of extortion we see in pay-to-play schemes, Pennsylvania must make major strides to lift itself out of its ethics quagmire.  Common Cause/PA is encouraged that Governor Wolf is taking to the bully pulpit to demonstrate the need for and provide leadership for these reforms.”

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