Common Cause Pa. leader renews call to ban all gifts to lawmakers

     (Kim Paynter/WHYY)

    (Kim Paynter/WHYY)

    Philadelphia City Council passed a bill banning cash gifts to public officials and employees. The measure would allow other gifts valued up to $99.

    Barry Kauffman wishes he would never have to read about Pennsylvania politicians accepting cash gifts from lobbyists ever again.

    The head of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a government watchdog group, said he has been urging the General Assembly to ban all gifts to public officials for decades.

    Kauffman renewed that plea Thursday in light of news, first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, that four state lawmakers and a city judge allegedly accepted money or gifts from a lobbyist who was wearing a wire for the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. 

    “We keep seeing this litany of abuses of power,” said Kauffman. “I think it’s time.”

    It is illegal in Pennsylvania for lawmakers to trade a vote or official act for a gift, but they can otherwise accept gifts as long as they disclose those worth $250 or more.

    Kauffman said lobbyists wouldn’t bother with gifts if they did not get special treatment in return, however.

    “Legislators have very limited time, and if they are going to see individuals right before a vote, who’s going to see them?” he said. “By having established special treatment, you might get the opportunity to make your pitch at just the right time.”

    Attorney General Kathleen Kane has vigorously defended her decision to shut down the corruption investigation into the public officials who allegedly took gifts, arguing that it was so badly botched by her predecessors that she cannot prosecute.

    When asked if Gov. Tom Corbett would support a gifts ban, spokesman Jay Pagni said, “The governor would work with the Legislature to review those rules and make changes if needed.”

    Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, said he would also consider revisions. “As things continue to unfold, there will be many different proposals offered,” he said. “We will take a look at everything and work on what’s best for the institution.” 

    A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi did not respond to a request for comment.

    The Philadelphia City Council this week passed a bill banning cash gifts to public officials and employees. The measure would allow other gifts valued up to $99.

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