Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Gifts They Keep on Getting

Gifts to elected officials are legal in PA but further the impression that our government is for sale; banning gifts would help erase that impression.

The Gifts They Keep on Getting


Each year around this time we see reports of gifts given to our elected officials and each year it furthers the impression that public service in PA too often is more about perks than it is about serving the public.

This is such an easy thing to fix: ban gifts.

The Inky reported Saturday that Gov. Corbett got about $800 worth of tickets to NFL playoff games and a Pittsburgh Penguins game; $10,141 to attend conferences and meetings, mostly paid for by the Republican Governors Association; and $1,405 for use of a private plane, paid for by the head of a group of cosmetology schools, to attend an event in Pittsburgh.

Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley got about $250 worth of Phillies tickets.

This stuff is common.

Philly Sen. Vince Hughes got a $4,000 trip to West Africa. Philly Rep. Dwight Evans got $2,000 worth of tickets for an Academy of Music event, and $4,324 for a South Africa trip.

Senate President Joe Scarnati got Super Bowl tickets in 2010 from a major energy company, which he said he'd pay back. And then-Gov. Rendell took $2,000 worth of hotel rooms in New York and Washington for appearances on national TV news shows. 

This is all legal, though 10 states ban gifts.

Pennsylvania should join the list.

Public perception of public service in this state is already tainted: by an ongoing line of elected officials led off to prison; by the pay, perks and pensions of the nation's largest full-time Legislature; by the wide-open, no-limits on campaign contributions, etc., etc.

The acceptance of gifts further separates elected officials from those they are elected to serve, the vast majority of whom will never have the opportunities for such gifts.

Whether it's a trip abroad or great seats at a professional sporting event, it conveys a sense of entitlement and creates at least the potential for conflicts of interests.

I'm not saying those named here, or on other gift lists, govern or vote differently because they accept gifts. I'm saying banning gifts is one small way to begin to restore some confidence in the simple notion that public service is a higher calling -- and about what one can give, rather than what one can get.





Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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