A bribe, by any other name, smells just as bad
At least two state senators recognize that the perpetual games of footsie played by lobbyists, narrow interests and lawmakers have a debilitating effect on the state government's credibility. Yet they still seem to regard "gifts" to lawmakers as some intractable force of nature rather than an engine of man-made corruption.
A nine-bill reform package unveiled by Sens. John Eichelberger, a Blair County Republican, and Mike Stack, a Philadelphia Democrat, has much to recommend it. Still, none of the bills outlaw giving legislators anything other than their salaries, even though the legislation is inspired by recent charges against former Sen. Bob Mellow for allegedly steering Pennsylvania Turnpike contracts to vendors in exchange for campaign contributions and other considerations.
State law requires lawmakers to report any "gifts" valued at $250 or more. The proposed legislation would not ban those "gifts," but would reduce the reporting threshold to $50.
"The public deserves a little more information about how people spend their time and how much money is being spent on that individual as they do their business here in the Legislature," Mr. Eichelberger said.
Actually, the taxpaying public deserves a great deal more than "a little more information." It deserves assurances than lawmakers represent the public interest, for which they are well paid by the public. That means that lawmakers must ban all gifts to legislators.
Characteristically, the lawmakers would exempt themselves from a more stringent standard that they want to impose on the executive branch. One of the reform bills would preclude any executive branch employee, from the governor down, from accepting gifts from any person or entity engaged in business with any element of state government. That apparently is inspired by Gov. Tom Corbett's receipt of gifts, including a vacation and sports tickets, from lobbyists and others.
The executive branch ban is on the mark. But why the exemption for lawmakers?
Other bills would preclude lobbyists from working on lawmakers' political campaigns, require online posting of the final scoring of all bid proposals, require state vendors to identify subcontractors, and otherwise increase transparency.
Many of the measures should pass. But lawmakers should give taxpayers a gift by outlawing all gifts to legislators.