Gifts, Freebies Flow to Pa. Lawmakers

Elected officials report $150K-plus in goods and services

Pennsylvania state lawmakers accepted more than $150,000 in gifts and free food, lodging and transportation, according to the latest set of mandatory reports filed with the State Ethics Commission.

State legislators traveled to at least six states and to China, India, Ireland and Switzerland.

For free, they watched NHL games, two joined the Erie Yacht Club and one took ski lift passes.

The state Ethics Act requires public officials to disclose annually any gifts worth at least $250 as well as transportation, lodging or hospitality worth $650 over the course of the year. The reports were due earlier this week.

Rep. Mike Vereb said Tuesday he didn't realize until much later the cost of a luncheon he and his wife attended during a Pennsylvania Society event in New York.

"I'm not a New York type of guy, and I had no friggin' clue as to the amount,” said Vereb,  R-Montgomery. He disclosed the $1,017 cost, a gift of Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company. Alpha's largesse turned up on at least four other financial statements.

For the Legislature, the total figures are higher than in previous years, in part because an ethics opinion the commission issued several months ago requires disclosure when members get deep
discounts on hotel rooms that are not widely available.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, listed $12,136 worth of construction services from a retired builder who is helping him construct a new home after his was destroyed in a fire.

“He refused to take any money,” Greenleaf said.

Three senators and a state representative went to Israel, a trip partially underwritten by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

“It was an educational trip,” said Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester. “We meet with members of the Israeli government, press, toured the different hot spot areas, like over near Gaza.”

Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, reported $670 from the Philadelphia Eagles for transportation, hotel accommodations, dinner and tickets to see the team take on the Dallas Cowboys.

Evans also received two free $1,000 tickets from the Philadelphia Orchestra for a “white-tie celebration,” two $1,500 tickets for the Philadelphia National Museum of American Jewish History's opening gala, and $915 from the Pew Center for the States to attend a "fiscal leader seminar" in Phoenix. He did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Sen. John Pippy, R-Allegheny, spent more than a week in China and India last summer. The cost of more than $19,000 was picked up by the Aspen Institute Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership of Washington, D.C.

The Legislative Leadership Institute Academy of Foreign Affairs in Green Bay, Wis., spent $12,293 to send Pippy for 10 days to Ireland and Switzerland in December. A phone message left for him after hours Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Many of the freebies are directly related to legislators' duties, particularly donations to underwrite community gatherings for constituents, such as the $10,000 for Rep. Mark Mustio's senior expo in Moon Township.

Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams, reported $7,284 -- plus in-kind donations of printing, cakes and DVD production -- for a luncheon in Gettysburg to recognize veterans. The donors' money was sent directly to the conference center.

“We probably didn't have to report it, but we felt we better be safe than sorry,” Moul said.

Gov. Tom Corbett's form includes a $530 glass or crystal etching from the Pittsburgh Penguins to commemorate the opening of their new arena last fall. It's being displayed on an end table in the governor's office.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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