At a celebrity roast of Hugh Hefner some years back, a comedian complimented Hefner on bringing six stunning blondes as dates to the event “because seven would have been ostentatious.”
I thought of that when I saw the Inquirer report yesterday that Pennsylvania State Senate President Joe Scarnati had accepted a free trip to the Super Bowl – airfare, hotel, and tickets – from an energy company drilling in the state’s Marcellus Shale.
I mean, is there anything he would have refused?
“Gosh I couldn’t accept a Mercedes – people might think you were getting something for it.”
Scarnati didn’t talk to the Inquirer. His legal counsel and chief of staff Drew Crompton got that duty, explaining that it was all legal and that Scarnati might reimburse Consol Energy for some of the cost.
“It’s not whether or not (accepting gifts) should occur,” Crompton said. “It’s whether you are complying with the lobbying law that we have. And we are.”
Which demonstrates two things: One, state ethics laws are pathetically weak if accepting a perk like this from a company with a huge stake in lawmakers’ actions is fine. And two, something is seriously amiss in the ethical climate in Harrisburg if a legislative leader would even for a moment consider accepting a gift like this.
For years, politicians from other parts of state have condemned Philadelphia as a cesspool of corruption, and we have done plenty to earn that description.
But this isn’t your grandfather’s Philadelphia.
The city now as limits on campaign contributions, while the state has done nothing about campaign finance reform. We remain one of a handful of states where special interests can donate a couple hundred grand to their chosen candidate any time they want.
And the city has an independent and aggressive ethics board that has successfully investigated and sanctioned Congressmen, judges and City Council members.
When I appeared on Radio Times last week with the Ethics Board executive director Shane Creamer and city Inspector General Amy Kurland, time ran out before I could add one point to the discussion – that Harrisburg needs a serious case of reform fever.
Hard to get any better evidence for it than a leading politician in the party that refused to tax gas drillers going to the Super Bowl on their dime.
The Inquirer story by Angela Couloumbis, Joe Tanfani and Andrew Maykuth also looks at how several other Western Pennsylvania pols managed to follow the Steelers to the Super Bowl. Read it here.