As Pennsylvania's highest elected official, Gov. Corbett has a unique responsibility to set the tone for the state government. That's why it is so disappointing to see him try to justify why he took free rides on a state contractor's helicopter, plane, and yacht.
Few would doubt the integrity of a man who served as a U.S. attorney and attorney general, and that is all the more reason why Corbett should know better. No, he did nothing illegal and he disclosed the trips. But he's also locked up corrupt politicians, so he knows the state's ingrained pay-to-play culture, loose ethics, and limitless campaign contributions are part of the problem.
Sometimes, Corbett does seem to understand. He banned "walking around money," the unwatched grants that legislators gave groups in exchange for political support. Following other states, he set up a web site that allows citizens to view state payments made to vendors. But that seems to be where transparency stops for him. He is also fighting a request by the Associated Press to view his schedule.
What is even more troubling is that Corbett's trip to Newport, R.I., the storied vacation spot for the moneyed class, was financed by a state vendor, trucking and warehouse firm owner John D. Moran Jr. The Inquirer's Amy Worden and Angela Couloumbis report that Moran has been a longtime government contractor. In 2006, before Corbett took office, Moran Industries received a $299,500 grant to develop a site in Williamsport and received low-interest loans worth $2.19 million. Since 2004, the company got tax breaks because it is located in a Keystone Opportunity Zone.
It doesn't matter that Corbett and Moran have been friends for five years. What matters is that Moran does business with the state. Corbett has no business accepting gifts from him.
On top of the free trips, Corbett's campaign held an exclusive symposium for some of his biggest campaign donors at the luxurious Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, Pa., in July. Donors didn't have to pay a fee. They'd already done their part to get Corbett elected and, after that warm glow of exclusive access to administration officials, they'll probably ante up again. And, why not? The big donors received quality time with officials whose policies affect the donors' business interests.
By bristling at questions about the trips, Corbett gives the impression that he doesn't understand how to lead by example. It is not enough to disclose a free vacation or chopper ride. Accepting them shows poor judgment. What tone is set when big donors have extraordinary access to Corbett's administration while average citizens can't get a look at his daily schedule?
Corbett must lead by example, and he can start with an executive order banning gifts for himself and all other state workers.