The Thing About Gifts


The front page of Tuesday's Daily News reopens questions and discussion about Pennsylvania governors accepting gifts while in office.

Here's the story by my colleague Will Bunch.

Its details include the acceptance of sports tickets, private jet travel and more -- the kind of gifts the powerful routinely get because, well, they're powerful.

Specifically, the story reopens discussion about former Gov. Rendell and current Gov. Corbett.

Both have been beneficiaries of goodies given and accepted, so it's a bipartisan issue.

And the discussion rightly revolves around something called the Governor's Code of Conduct.

It was put in place by Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh, a former federal prosecutor (as was Corbett) with a squeaky-clean reputation. It was upheld by the late Gov. Robert Casey, a former fiscal watchdog (he served as state auditor general) with a near-saintly reputation.

So under Thornburgh and Casey, the Governor's Code of Conduct never really was in question.

Enter Rendell (who took, for example, tickets to a Super Bowl and to a Billy Joel concert) and Corbett (who took tickets to a Steelers playoff game, a hockey game, a concert and so on).

Which gets me to the thing about gifts. There is no reason, none, why any incumbent governor should accept a gift of any real value. You get a fat salary, a mansion, transportation, toadies and a lifestyle that rarely requires you to open your wallet. You want a ticket, a trip, a gift of any kind then pay for it.

That said, it's important to understand the Governor's Code of Conduct.

It appears to ban gifts. It says you can't solicit or accept "any gift, gratuity, entertainment, loan or any other thing of monetary value" from anyone doing business with the state or regulated by the state or....well, you can read the whole thing here (just click on Governor's Code of Conduct).

But, of course, there's a loophole.

The code has "exceptions," the most critical being that a governor can accept goodies from a "friend" if the motivation for the giving is based on a "personal" relationship.

Plus, the code is not law, it's an "executive order" that's essentially unenforceable since every governor has "friends" and who's going to litigate motivation?

So. While it is, on the one hand, bad image-making to treat one's office as a pinata filled with freebies, in Pennsylvania any governor can pretty much get anything he or she desires -- so long as he or she has "friends."