Sunday, December 28, 2014

When your state is a lot less ethical than Arizona, that's a problem

When your state is a lot less ethical than Arizona, that's a problem

There's an interesting political scandal brewing in Arizona (which must be good for local journalists because not too much else of interest has happened there in the last couple of years*) involving the annual Fiesta Bowl football fandango.

The corruption is so massive I can't get into all of it here (and relax, partisans, as it involves both major parties) but this aspect of the scandal really jumped out at me. A bunch of state lawmakers in the Grand Canyon State are in deep, deep trouble because they accepted all-expense paid trips to out-of-state football games:

Arizona lawmakers who accepted tickets from Fiesta Bowl lobbyists to attend football games in Chicago, Boston, Pasadena and other cities may have violated state law.

Since 2000, state statutes have included an "entertainment ban" that prohibits state employees and elected officials from accepting tickets or "admission to any sporting or cultural event" for free.

There's more:

The report says Fiesta Bowl employees went on at least seven trips with politicians in recent years and lists more than a dozen former and current state lawmakers, including Sen. President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who joined lobbyists and bowl representatives for football weekends in Chicago and Boston.

You know where something like this wouldn't be a big deal? Right here in Pennsylvania. As was reported earlier this year in the Inquirer and elsewhere, Pa. lawmakers got all-expense trips to see the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2011 Super Bowl, courtesty of those cash-rich oil-and-gas companies you've been hearing so much about. One of the lawmakers who received a trip from Consol Energy -- GOP Senate President Joseph Scarnati -- decided to reimburse the company, but only because it looked so bad politically, not because he had to:

Paying for the senator’s trip is not illegal under Pennsylvania’s state ethics rules, but would have been illegal in many other states.

Many states forbid gifts of more than $100 or $250, though the specifics vary widely. Mr. Scarnati’s Super Bowl trip – with an estimated value of more than $7,000 – would be illegal in at least 30 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some states, such as Wisconsin and Vermont, have outright bans on giving gifts to lawmakers.

What would have taken place here -- had Scarnati not been exposed and paid the money back -- is essentially legalized bribery; it would have been a felony, after all, if Consol had handed the senator the amount of cash necessary to go to Arlington in unmarked bills in a white envelope in the men's room. The fact that we, the voters of Pennsylvania, tolerate such lax laws and lawmakers who refuse to bring them into the 20th Century, let alone the 21st, simply boggles the mind. Arizona is a thoroughly corrupt state -- Pearce, you'll recall, is the one who pushed through the racial profiling law while meeting with private prison firms anxious for increased business -- but at least it has tougher ethics laws than the Keystone State...because everybody does! When will be ever learn?

* Sarcasm.

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Will Bunch
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