Our opinion: Buying favor with gifts

The Pennsylvania General Assembly and the state’s legion of public officials remain among those in nine other states that are for sale.

You see, those officials, elected and not, can accept with virtual impunity gifts from lobbyists, special interest groups and individuals. All they have to do is report anything with a value over $250 or privately underwritten good times over $650.

Of course, as we all know, gifts never come with strings attached. No, sir, votes and policies are not for sale. Certainly, gifts do not influence lawmakers in any way.

And, if you believe the preceding paragraph, we would like to take this opportunity to disabuse you of your belief in the Easter Bunny.

There is currently a bill meandering through the Capitol that would reduce the threshold for officials to report gifts. It does nothing to restrict the gifts themselves.

It is a step in the right direction, but just a baby step. And, it provides a loophole which still allows our public officials to accept gratuities from adoring special interests.

House Bill 1872 would require public officials to disclose receipt of tangible gifts with a value exceeding $50 (rather than the current $250) and hospitality, entertainment and travel exceeding $100 (rather than the current $650).

We ask ourselves, if one makes in excess of $84,000 plus lovely benefits – even more for legislative leaders – why one really needs to supplement their quality of life through the largesse of “well-wishers.”

Ideally, public officials should be prevented from accepting anything larger than a cup of coffee or a cheap pen emblazoned with the benefactor’s cause. Yes, it can be done. Some other states actually prohibit gifts to legislators and most public officials.

So, the legislation is a baby step.

But, the bill eliminates the aggregation clause in current rules. That means that a lobbyist could give a legislator several gifts, each under the $50 threshold in a year or even same day, and the lawmaker wouldn’t need to report them.

Gifts should not be part of the legislative process, although we hope HB 1872 becomes law in the hope that, even with its loopholes, it might make legislators weary of the paperwork required and encourage them to wean themselves from “the kindness of strangers.”