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Activists Renew Their Push To Ban Public Officials From Accepting Gifts

Government reform activists say they haven’t forgotten state lawmakers’ pledges to address the blind spots in Pennsylvania law on accepting gifts.

On Tuesday in a relatively deserted state Capitol, Harrisburg’s most avid gadflies renewed their push to ban public officials from accepting any gifts.

“This has to be statutory. It has to be legislation. It has to impact all three branches,” said Eric Epstein, of Rock the Capital.

Pennsylvania state lawmakers and public officials are allowed to accept gifts, including cash,as long as the gifts valued at $250 or more are reported. Gifts of transportation lodging, and hospitality must only be reported if they reach a $650 value.

The issue rose to prominence after newspaper reports in March that five Philadelphia Democrats, four of them House members, accepted money or gifts from an undercover informant working for state prosecutors. No one has been charged.

There were immediate results: the House and Senate approved rules in April discouraging state lawmakers from taking cash gifts. But no new law has been passed.

“It’s time to shame Pennsylvania’s ruling class into ending this disgusting habit of rewarding themselves,” Epstein said. “This is disgusting. There’s no other way to put it. Giving a gift to a politician, you’re expecting a return.”

The Senate passed a ban last month on public officials and their employees accepting cash gifts. The House is not expected to take it up until after a June hearing.

Epstein and fellow activist Gene Stilp held up giant pseudo-currency emblazoned with the governor’s picture. Stilp dubbed the fake money “Corbucks” and said he would be taking it around to legislators’ offices, asking to bribe them in exchange for a total gift ban law.

“Eric, I never thought we’d stoop so low as to use bribery to get a bill passed,” Stilp said to Epstein.

“Look,” Epstein said. “If you can’t beat ‘em, bribe ‘em.”

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