Gift ban advocates target Pa. GOP leaders, urging an end to ‘Groundhog Day’

‘Be not afraid of your shadowy politics. Come on out and make democracy spring,’ MarchOnHarrisburg organizers urged Pa. GOP leadership

By: - January 24, 2022 6:54 pm

MarchOnHarrisburg members demonstrate outside a fundraiser for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, in downtown Harrisburg and outside House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff’s, R-Centre, house on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, to call on lawmakers to pass a legislative gift ban.

Dressed in top hats and coats, advocates for a legislative gift ban took their cause to the streets on Monday night as they gathered outside a fundraiser for the highest-ranking Senate Republican and the Harrisburg home of the No. 2 GOP lawmaker in the state House.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, both Centre County Republicans, are the most prominent legislative holdouts on a bill that would strengthen Pennsylvania’s gift laws and limit what lawmakers and state employees can accept as public officeholders.

“This is a repetitive thing we keep going through year after year with Pennsylvania corruption,” MarchOnHarrisburg Executive Director Michael told the Capital-Star on Monday.

A handful of organizers were waiting outside the Hilton Hotel in downtown Harrisburg as attendees walked into a $1,000-a-ticket reception for Corman, who’s also seeking the GOP nomination for governor this year.

Pollack compared their advocacy efforts and interactions with legislative leaders to the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again.

“The way Bill Murray ends ‘Groundhog Day’ is by being a good person,” Pollack said. “We’re asking Jake Corman to channel his good inner Bill Murray, be a good person, pass the gift ban, and stop taking bribes.”

 

Under Pennsylvania’s existing Ethics Act, state lawmakers and government employees can accept unlimited gifts — lodging, travel, entertainment, and meals — from anyone as long as they disclose those worth more than $250 on annual financial interest forms. It’s among the weakest gift laws in the United States, but there are exceptions, including when a lawmaker accepts a gift from a friend or family member.

MarchOnHarrisburg, whose members have faced arrest for their tactics, argues that Pennsylvania’s gift laws let deep-pocketed lobbyists and special interests bribe lawmakers.

When Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, took office in 2015, he immediately signed an executive order to prohibit executive branch employees from accepting gifts. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and state Liquor Control Board enacted similar policies. Wolf’s ban expires when the term-limited governor leaves office in January 2023.

Corman, who has reported accepting thousands of dollars in gifts, is the only legislative leader in the Republican-controlled General Assembly who has refused to comment on a proposed ban as a sitting lawmaker. In November, he told the Capital-Star that he would support a ban if elected as the state’s top executive.

Shortly after gathering outside the Hilton, MarchOnHarrisburg members were asked to leave the premises.

Organizers then went to Benninghoff’s home in Harrisburg, urging him: “Be not afraid of your shadowy politics. Come on out and make democracy spring.”

The House leader has yet to call a vote on legislation introduced by Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, proposing a gift ban. The bill advanced out of the House State Government Committee in October.

Last month, Jason Gottesman, a House GOP spokesperson, told the Capital-Star that the gift ban is “a work in progress,” noting that Wolf has expressed concern about its strictness. 

But Pollack said on Monday that Benninghoff’s office told MarchOnHarrisburg that they hope to run Kaufer’s legislation in February.

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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