Advocates Rally for Lawmaker Gift Ban in PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - This week, the push for a gift ban continued with the advocacy group March On Harrisburg calling on party leaders to allow a vote on a gift ban bill.
“The 2021 and 2022 legislative session is on pace to be one of the least effective legislative sessions in decades,” said Reverend Carla Christopher with March On Harrisburg.
Last year, 20 percent of bills passed by the General Assembly were to name roads and bridges. Rev. Christopher says an unproductive trend is continuing for the second half of the current session.
“The 4,000 bills that are introduced, 86 percent of them never even make it to being fairly heard,” said Christopher.
March On Harrisburg says unlimited gifts that state lawmakers are allowed to accept are a major contributor to a lack of production.
“They don't think this issue is important. They don't think it's a bribe when the speaker of the House goes to the Super Bowl with a gas company. They don't think it's a bribe when legislators get wined and dined with surf’n and turf’n open bars,” said Rabbi Michael Pollack with March On Harrisburg.
Pollack says there is support in the legislature for a gift ban, but it is consistently shot down by party leaders.
“We've seen it again, 33 gift ban bills in the last 20 years. Not one of them has received a floor vote in either chamber,” said Pollack.
State lawmakers are able to accept unlimited gifts related to transportation, lodging, meals, beverages, recreation and entertainment, and only have to disclose amounts higher than $250.
“This is not sustainable. Unlimited campaign contributions, unlimited gifts, unlimited dark money, open gerrymandering, closed primaries, no ranked choice voting, side jobs, revolving door, closed voting rights, this is all producing a collapse,” said Pollack, adding that Pennsylvania's gift law is among the weakest in the country.
“This building has an 18 percent approval rating right now. And I'm confused why it's that high,” said Pollack. “It doesn't make any sense. Bribery is legal, everybody is on the take, it's clear as day it's happening in front of us in plain sight,” he added.
Pollack says there is a way to surpass the majority party leadership to pass a gift ban. However, it’s unlikely and a similar tactic hasn’t occurred in over a century.
“With 102 votes, you can call a bill up and pass it without the majority leader's approval, without anybody's approval. As far as we know, this hasn't happened since 1921,” said Pollack.
Pollack is encouraging 102 lawmakers to step up and get a gift ban passed.
“The problem is, they’re too afraid to stand up. They need to find some courage. They need to find the spine to take on the majority leader during budget season,” said Pollack. “They need to find the strength and the courage to take on leadership during election season. They need to stand with the people of Pennsylvania, they need to stand with a majority against corruption and they need to make it happen,” he added.