Lax Pa. law is open door to gas companies’ gifts

    Pennsylvania’s top Senate Republican, Joe Scarnati, is drawing criticism for allowing a natural gas drilling company to pay for his trip to the Super Bowl four months after a natural gas severance tax died in the Senate. Consol Energy footed the bill for Scarnati’s travel, accommodation and ticket, according to a story first published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Republican has since tweeted he’ll pay the company back.

    Barry Kauffman of Common Cause Pennsylvania said the trip shows a disparity between Pennsylvania and other states. “This situation would appear to be illegal in about 35 – or perhaps even more – states, based on their bans or limits on gift.”

    In fact, former N.Y. Gov. David Paterson was fined more than $60,000 last year for soliciting and accepting free 2009 World Series tickets from the Yankees. That wouldn’t be a problem in Pennsylvania, according to Kauffman. “There are no limits in Pennsylvania on gifts whatsoever, unless they’re flat-out bribery or something like that,” he said.

    Other lawmakers took advantage of perks to attend the game, as well. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi received a ticket, travel and hotel room from the Steelers. Gov. Tom Corbett paid for his own ticket and hotel room, but flew down to Dallas on the team’s charter flight.

    Pennsylvania law does require lobbyists and lawmakers to disclose physical gifts of more than $250, and travel and entertainment perks that exceed $650 a year. Kauffman wants to see changes to those rules.

    “Obviously, the best situation would be places like Wisconsin, where they just flat-out ban gifts. That makes it easier for both the public official and the lobbyist or the special interest group. They know it can’t be done. There’s no questions asked,” he said.

    Pennsylvania lobbyists are required to disclose their gifts to officials four times a year. Legislators file annual disclosure forms.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.