HARRISBURG — There were still trips to faraway places and “comped” tickets to glitzy galas, ritzy receptions, and sold-out sporting events.
But overall, 2011 proved to be a lean year for legislators and administration officials accepting gifts, according to annual statements of financial interest, due this month.
Perhaps the belt-tightening climate in Harrisburg has taken its toll — or perhaps because it’s an election year, and most want to avoid even the whiff of controversy — but many elected officials ended up reporting little more than the paycheck they collected for their work in the Capitol.
There were some exceptions.
Gov. Corbett, for instance, reported receiving tickets worth nearly $800 to two NFL playoff games as well as a Pittsburgh Penguins game; $10,141 in meals, hotel, and airfare for conferences and meetings — most of them organized and paid for by the Republican Governors Association; and $1,405 for the use of a private plane, paid for by the head of a group of cosmetology schools, to get to an event in Pittsburgh.
And Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley accepted nearly $3,000 in airfare and hotel accommodations for a trip to Rhode Island last summer, plus just under $250 for Phillies tickets. He also gets a dozen bagels sent to him nearly every month — sometimes twice a month — by a Republican lawmaker from Monroe County.
Kevin Harley, Corbett’s spokesman, said that, as a public figure, the governor was expected to attend events outside the Capitol.
“But it doesn’t influence his opinion or his decision-making,” Harley said.
In the legislature, both Democratic and Republican leaders reported taking little more than their salaries last year.
But here, too, there were exceptions.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Philadelphia), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, reported having received $4,000 worth of transportation and lodging from a Baltimore-based nonprofit called ARK Jammers Connection Inc. Its website describes ARK (which stands for Acts of Random Kindness) as an organization that brings together artists and music lovers from different cultures and from all walks of life to foster “intercultural dialogue through the unifying power of music.”
In an interview Friday, Hughes said the trip was to Cameroon in West Africa and was a confluence of both personal and business matters. His wife, he said, had done a DNA test and traced her ancestral roots to Cameroon, so the trip was part of “an ancestry-reconnection program.” While there, he also met with the country’s prime minister, as well as several top government officials.
“No state dollars were spent on this trip in any way, shape, or form,” said Hughes, “and, quite frankly, having the opportunity to meet with the prime minister of a country and several of his cabinet officers to discuss trade is, I think, in the end, a huge benefit.”
State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Philadelphia) accepted $2,000 for two tickets paid for by the Philadelphia law firm of Duane Morris for the Academy of Music’s anniversary concert and ball; $7,066 for various meetings and conferences, including $4,324 for a South Africa Study Tour paid for by the National Conference of State Legislators and the U.S. Department of State; and $2,000 for various benefits and galas.
Evans said all the events and conferences he listed helped him in his work as a legislator or are directly related to issues he champions, such as fresh-food initiatives in urban areas.
“They inform my work in Harrisburg,” he said. “It’s not like we are trying to hide it. We put the information out to the people for everyone to see.”
In Western Pennsylvania, state Sen. John Pippy (R., Allegheny) reported a trip to Jordan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia valued at about $12,000 for transportation and $1,800 for lodging. Explaining a similar trip last year, Pippy said he learned in his travels how Pennsylvania businesses could compete globally.
And back home, state Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) reported accepting $28,000 worth of what he called “construction advice” from a private firm. In an interview, Greenleaf said the advice was for his house, which burned down in a fire more than two years ago, and came from a close friend of his. He said he decided to disclose it in an abundance of caution.
“This is a friend of mine that I’ve known all my life,” said Greenleaf, who chairs the Judiciary Committee. “Normally, you don’t put a value to the things a friend does for you, but as a senator, I have to.”
Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Karen Langley contributed to this article.