HARRISBURG - One of Pennsylvania's top lobbying firms treated Delaware County Rep. Ron Raymond to its luxury suite to watch minor-league hockey: $1,230.
An international packaging conglomerate provided $2,000 in golf balls for outings thrown by Philadelphia Reps. John Perzel and George Kenney.
Rep. Camille "Bud" George of Clearfield County got tickets for himself, his wife and two friends to watch the Nittany Lions take on three Big Ten gridiron opponents. Penn State picked up the tab - $1,380 in all.
None of the lawmakers let the public know, as required by law.
An analysis made possible for the first time in Pennsylvania by its new lobbying-disclosure law identified a number of legislators who failed to report freebies from special interests in 2007.
The evidence comes amid a fresh debate in Harrisburg about whether to ban lobbyist largesse outright.
"What taxpayers don't know will cost them. You can't regulate decency, but you can ban political gifts," said Eric Epstein, founder of the Harrisburg watchdog group RockTheCapital.org. "I'm just as concerned about the gifts that weren't reported. There is a thriving black market in political swag."
Starting in January last year, the disclosure rules for the first time required 1,300 lobbyists and their clients to report how much they spend each quarter to influence legislation in Harrisburg. If they spend more than $250 on gifts or more than $650 on meals, hotels, travel and other hospitality for an individual lawmaker or state official, they must report it.
In a separate filing that has been around for decades, each spring lawmakers must report to the state Ethics Commission, among other things, whether they have accepted gifts or hospitality over a similar threshold.
A comparison of the two sets of reports revealed more than a dozen cases in which lobbyists disclosed spending on lawmakers who had checked off boxes indicating that they had not received anything in 2007.
Such was the case with some of the 64 House and Senate members who attended the 2007 State Legislative Weekend, which the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau held to promote development in the city.
Seventeen legislators at the event accepted enough free stuff - including hotel stays, receptions, and tickets to the 76ers and the musical
- to require the visitors bureau to report it on its expense filings. Five of them, however, did not disclose it on their ethics forms, with Rep. Harold James (D., Phila.) racking up the largest bill, $2,044, according to the visitors bureau's reports.
Asked about not reporting that amount, James said, "It's news to me."
"I guess I didn't realize I went over the threshold," he said.
The state Ethics Commission can impose minor fines on lawmakers who fail to report gifts and hospitality expenses. But the agency traditionally allows a legislator to submit a new report disclosing previously omitted information.
James said he planned to file an amended report.
Raymond, the Delaware County Republican, already has.
In March 2007, Raymond, who is leaving the legislature in November after 24 years in office, asked Greenlee Partners, a major lobbying force in Harrisburg, to provide him with its 17-seat suite at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Raymond, through a spokesman, acknowledged that he hadn't listed the suite, which was used during a Hershey Bears hockey game.
"It was a clear oversight. He didn't realize he reached the threshold and immediately corrected the oversight," said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans.
As required by the new law, Greenlee Partners reported the expense on its lobbying form.
"The culture is changing, and there is transparency," said Stan Rapp, the firm's senior partner. "We are trying to live up to that 100 percent."
In September, Perzel, a former speaker of the House and a top Republican fund-raiser, accepted $1,100 in golf balls from Crown Holdings, according to the corporation's lobbying-expense reports. The packaging giant, with world headquarters in Philadelphia, also reported providing $863 in balls a month earlier to Kenney, also a Republican.
Martin O'Rourke, a spokesman for Perzel and Kenney, said the two longtime lawmakers hadn't known that Crown Holdings provided the golf balls, and that when they learned of it from a reporter they decided to reimburse the company.
The ethics reports that legislators must file are intended to provide the public at least a cursory view of how outside sources might influence their decisions. Before the lobbying-disclosure law, it was the public's only source of such information.
The fact that some lawmakers still failed to report lobbyists' generosity when there was a mechanism to determine otherwise raises questions about how many did so in previous years.
The Senate State Government Committee is scheduled to vote this month on a bill to prevent lawmakers from taking gifts over $10 in value. Unlike 15 states that ban or severely limit what a lobbyist can give, Pennsylvania imposes no such restrictions on what a lawmaker can accept.
Sen. Jeffrey E. Piccola (R., Dauphin), the committee chairman and bill sponsor, said the fact that lawmakers weren't always reporting what they were required to report was yet another reason to adopt his proposal.
"It simplifies it all the way around. You are not allowed to take anything, so there is nothing to file," he said.
Had the measure been in place, George - the Clearfield County Democrat - and three other lawmakers wouldn't have been able to accept hundreds of dollars in free tickets to Penn State football games, as they did last year without reporting them.
George amended his ethics reports a day after The Inquirer first contacted him. But he's not happy about it, calling the situation an embarrassment and saying he never realized the tickets added up to that much. He insisted that Penn State had not notified him that he was in the university's lobbying report, as the law requires.
"If they want to put me in jail over this, then go ahead," said George, known for years as a plain-talking legislator from rural Pennsylvania. "I am tired of this goddamn place anyway."
Richard DiEugenio, special assistant to the president for governmental affairs at Penn State, said he wasn't certain whether he had informed George and the others that they exceeded the reporting threshold last year. The law is new, he said, and the university is working out kinks in meeting the reporting requirements.
"It might have been me who fell down on the job," he said.
It all has George thinking twice about accepting free tickets to Beaver Stadium again.
"Now I am going to hesitate to go, for crying out loud," he said. "Now I might just tell them to take their game tickets and stick them . . . "