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Politics & Government

Government Reform Caucus Supports Partial Gift Ban

When Gov. Tom Wolf took office earlier this year, one of his first items of business was implementing a gift ban. That set a ban on gifts to all political appointees and state workers. But lawmakers didn’t fall under that umbrella.

A bill (HB43) has been introduced in Harrisburg that would ban large gifts to elected officials in part to help restore public trust.

“People have lost their faith in government,” said Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny), the bill’s sponsor. “We all know this, we see it every day, we hear it when we go back home [to our districts] and we have recent scandals and so forth that have contributed to that and people are concerned about the special interest influences in Harrisburg and in Washington for that matter.”

The bill prohibits lawmakers from accepting sporting event tickets, transportation, lodging, hospitality or anything of economic value as a gift.

“My bill has exceptions for simple things like if my family wants to give me a gift, they can still give me a gift, if a constituent brings a dish of cookies into the office, we can receive that,” said Saccone. 

The goal is to ensure those with political influence aren’t able to give big-ticket gifts because of either how it would influence a lawmaker or even the perception that it would influence them.

“(The bill) would force us to conduct business differently than we have in the past,” he said. “It will actually help change the culture up here.”

The bill has the support of the Government Reform Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral group formed two years ago to develop and support legislation that will, ultimately, better state government. While some lawmakers questions why there wasn’t an outright gift ban introduced, Caucus Co-Chair Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) said the group wants to support legislation that can make it to the governor’s desk, so there are compromises.

“I know the governor has an outright gift ban, there have been some issues with it, it’s hard to take care of that – you don’t want to offend anybody,” said Dunbar. “We tried to find some happy medium that those members of our caucus felt comfortable with and it is something we can get passed.”

The Caucus also announced a protocol for determining which bills they will endorse. That process includes notifying the group so the bill can be on its agenda; a simple majority vote of active caucus members to approve consideration of the bill then a two-thirds majority vote of active members to approve the legislation. After that, both caucus chairs will sign a letter that will go to the bill’s sponsor letting them know it has the group’s backing.