New Castle News

April 19, 2013

Our Opinion: New wave of ethics initiatives arrives in Harrisburg

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — There may be hope yet for Harrisburg.

Recent signs suggest that even lawmakers are grasping that the ethics situation in the state capital is taking its toll. Maybe they are hearing from constituents who are fed up with the commonwealth’s seemingly endless string of scandals.

Anyhow, some of the reforms being pushed are modest, such as this week’s votes in the state Senate to accelerate the process for reporting campaign contributions and lobbyist expenses.

The legislation, which now goes to the House, would require that information on contributions and lobbyist expenses be filed electronically, via that newfangled device known as the Internet. It also would require additional detail from organizations that spend $10,000 or more a year in political donations. And it would double fines for late filings to $500.

Considering the technology to do this has been in existence for only a few decades, Pennsylvania isn’t too far behind the times. Better late than never, we suppose.

But bigger tests of the Legislature’s commitment to political reform are still to come. Proposed legislation would lower to $50 the threshold for reporting any gifts state officials receive. This follows revelations of assorted goodies Gov. Tom Corbett has received since taking office.

And there are various changes proposed that follow on the heels of criminal charges against former top Pennsylvania Turnpike officials that involved alleged payments and political donations from private vendors. Bills have been introduced that would toughen reporting requirements for these vendors in a variety of ways, including a listing of their subcontractors.

Meanwhile, the state would have to list all vendors that bid on projects. And in another area of reform, registered lobbyists would not be permitted to serve as campaign managers for candidates. Proposed new rules even would require that appointees to state advisory panels disclose contributions to the governor.

The package of bills also calls for lawmakers to forfeit their paychecks if they miss the state deadline of June 30 for approving a budget.

While the turnpike scandal may have been the last straw for pushing at least some lawmakers to pay more attention to ethics, they seem to be thinking about the future as well. Specifically, they seem to be worried about the public response to unpopular state decisions amid a mountain of corruption.

Here’s a quote from one of the backers of these reforms, Sen. Rob Teplitz, a Dauphin County Democrat: “We, as a state, have very challenging substantive issues we have to deal with — big issues on transportation, on pensions, the budget and other issues that we’re going to be making tough decisions on and asking the public to join us in those decisions.

“But the fact is the public is never going to buy into those tough decisions if they are constantly feeling like they are being sold out.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.