On ‘super’ gifts, Pennsylvania should say no

It’s official: The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will be invading the New Jersey Meadowlands next Sunday to decide who will be Super Bowl XLVIII champion.

What’s not yet official for Pennsylvania taxpayers is how many of their elected state officials will be attending the game, courtesy of lobbyists and other special interests seeking to create preferred relationships.

If Pennsylvania were like 10 other states, which have full bans on gifts for politicians, that question would be irrelevant. However, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Keystone State is among 10 states with no monetary limits on gifts.

The headline over a front-page article in the Dec. 26 Mirror reported that “Gifts arrive year-round for leaders,” and the article noted that “from Turkish rugs to all-expense-paid trips to the Super Bowl, lawmakers and other high-ranking state officials rack up all sorts of goodies from lobbyists looking to generate some goodwill for their special interests.”

Meanwhile, most of the voters who traveled to the polls on Election Day on behalf of good government based on fairness to all have to wonder how much the gifts in question are influencing policy, despite Pennsylvania law specifying that gifts may not be given or received if they are intended to influence decisions.

A lawmaker doesn’t usually accept Super Bowl tickets or other expensive gifts, then vote in coming days against the interest of those providing those “perks.”

Several bills were introduced last year to change state law regarding gift-giving. Some propose to ban gifts altogether; others would set stricter limits on the value and type of gifts that could be given.

However, since a hearing in September on tightening the commonwealth’s gift laws, there has been little, if any, movement on the issue.

After Sunday, the Associated Press should get in touch with every elected Pennsylvania state official to ascertain which got Super Bowl tickets and other big-game accommodations paid for by special interests.

Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a group that supports reforming the state’s political gift-giving policies, isn’t hesitant in saying that “these gifts are there for one reason: to create preferred relationships with policymakers that other taxpayers are not able to have.”

He rightly advocates a full ban on gifts that exceed the value of a cup of coffee.

According to the AP, Pennsylvania lawmakers reported more than $43,000 in gifts on their 2012 financial disclosure forms.

That figure doesn’t include gifts valued at under $250, which lawmakers are not required to report.

The figure for 2013 won’t be available until April.

As state residents watch the Super Bowl or, in some cases, perhaps just catch the halftime show, they should reflect on whether anyone for whom they voted is there in person without having spent even one dollar of their own money to be part of the spectacle.

Pennsylvania should join the states that believe political gift-giving is nothing but a temptation for bad judgment on the legislative floor.

Taxpayers should throw a flag against such unacceptable influence.