Like many rites of spring, the annual filing of state lawmakers’ ethics forms can get the blood moving.
Invariably, it engenders amusement and bemusement. For some, it creates the urge to go kick something.
And our legislature, a journalist’s gift that keeps on giving, deserves a good kick on this one.
Lawmakers operate, no surprise, under one of the nation’s laxest ethics laws.
In terms of meals, gifts and travel, they can take anything they can get from lobbyists and others if they report it each May to the State Ethics Commission.
Members of the good government activist group March on Harrisburg earlier this month protested this legal greed by standing in the visitors’ gallery of the state House chamber, throwing dollar bills down at lawmakers, and chanting, “Stop taking bribes.”
They were ushered out by Capitol Police.
Too bad. Such harassment of legislators is earned and deserved.
The Associated Press over the weekend reported that this year’s filings show lawmakers grabbed more than $83,000 in freebies, including international travel, parties, booze and, in one case, entrée to a Philly after-hours club.
More on that last one in a bit.
The AP highlighted GOP House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, of Lancaster County, taking $2,000 from the Jewish Federation to help pay for a trip to Israel.
And GOP Senate Leader Jake Corman, of Centre County, taking a Penn State alumni award valued at $375, and dinner for himself and family worth about $1,800. Must have included lots of Peachy Paterno ice cream.
I took a closer look at Philly lawmakers.
There was Philly Democratic Rep. Jason Dawkins with a $6,500 trade conference trip to Taipei, plus a $1,435 Seattle trip for a conference paid for by the liberal activist group People for the American Way.
Philly Democratic Rep. Jordan Harris got AP attention for an $11,400 trip to Israel, lots of concert tickets he gave constituents, and “free entry to a club in Philadelphia.”
The “club” thing piqued my interest. So, I went to Harris’ filing.
It lists Harris getting $750 from the “Manayunk Social Club, 125 S. 2nd St.”
There is a Manayunk Sport and Social Club at 4245 Main St. in Manayunk. It features adult volleyball, kickball and softball leagues.
What’s at 125 S. 2nd Street? That would be the Recess Lounge, a members-only after-hours nightclub offering VIP service, guest DJs and “leather seating.”
Seemed like a reason to chat with Rep. Harris.
“No,” he said, he’s not trying to duck his lounge act by listing it differently. He does go to Recess Lounge. And when he does, he pays no cover charge. And, he says, “If I have a drink or two, I don’t pay for that, either.”
He says he doesn’t list it as Recess Lounge because a personal friend manages the club and is one of its owners.
And he stresses that by listing the gift at all he’s being “overly transparent” because lawmakers are not required to list gifts from friends.
Fair enough. And another argument for a legislative gift ban.
Other Philly filings show Sen. Tina Tartaglione getting $14,700 worth of lunches, tote bags, school supplies, and cases of soda and water for constituency events she held, funded by the likes of Peco, Shop Rite, Einstein Healthcare, Fox Chase Wellness, and Coca Cola.
Nice to do stuff for constituents (and feed the soda tax), I guess. Not nice the stuff is paid for by entities whose interests come before the legislature.
Sen. Vincent Hughes reports taking $1,336 for an LGBT Arts and Culture Music Festival in Union City, Ga.; Sen. Larry Farnese lists getting $818 from the Philadelphia Academy of Music; and Rep. Jared Solomon discloses taking $300 worth of tickets to the Philadelphia Auto Show.
Legislation banning gifts to lawmakers is routinely introduced and proceeds, each session, on its own death march.
Gov. Tom Wolf instituted a gift ban for administration employees when he first took office in 2015, and has encouraged a legislative gift ban since.
I’ve long argued for such a ban. It’s good policy. A way to say public service should never include self-service. And it could help get the "kick me: sign off the legislature’s back.