Editorial voices from around the state
Out in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lawmakers are scrambling to climb on the bandwagon.
“This is outrageous,” they said. “We shouldn’t be allowed to accept cash gifts from lobbyists or others. There oughta be a law.”
Yes, there oughta be a law. In fact, there should have been strong ethics reform that included a ban on these types of cash gifts decades ago. It speaks volumes that it took a recent scandal – involving Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane squashing a sting operation in which four Philadelphia state legislators took money from an informant posing as a lobbyist – for any kind of organized outrage from our elected officials to surface.
Republican and Democratic leaders from the House State Government Committee announced last week they would be drafting legislation banning cash gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists, the principals they represent and others. Similar promises came from senators on both sides of the aisle last week, as well.
It’s mind-boggling that it’s legal for a Pennsylvania lawmaker to accept cash gifts from lobbyists as long as he or she reports individual gifts of more than $250 and total gifts of more than $650 in a given year, and as long as he or she does not allow the gift to influence any decision-making. Actually, it’s legal for legislators and the governor to accept gifts, dinners, trips, event tickets or just about anything else if there are no strings attached.
It’s even more mind-boggling that such gift giving is allowed given the number of corruption scandals that have rocked Harrisburg over the years.
Ethics laws for Pennsylvania lawmakers and others in power are pathetically weak. The power brokers in Harrisburg should spare us the moral indignation and fix what is so terribly broken.
Banning cash gifts won’t solve all of the corruption problems in Harrisburg and it won’t stop some lawmakers from allowing themselves to be bought and sold. But it’s a start.
Climbing on the bandwagon isn’t enough. Anything short of the toughest ethics laws in the land is unacceptable.
When Pope Francis did not give a private audience last week to Gov. Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, it touched off a wave of darkly comic speculation.
One Philadelphia news site suggested that, given the prosecuted and unprosecuted corruption in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania politics, the pontiff was afraid the governor and mayor might have been wearing wires for the meeting.
But, as a practical matter, there are many sound reasons for the pope to visit Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families there from Sept. 22 through Sept. 27, 2015.
Pope Francis’ predecessors have visited five of the seven World Meetings of Families, which are conducted every three years since the event was founded in 1994. This will be the first in the series to occur in the United States. The others were in Rome twice; Rio de Janeiro; Manila; Valencia, Spain; Mexico City and Milan.
Pope Francis made family issues a high priority of his pontificate and, as Nutter said, the Philadelphia event would offer the pope an opportunity to address those matters directly to massive in-person and media audiences.
And the event is scheduled just ahead of a summit of the world’s Catholic bishops that the pope has called to discuss an array of church policies covering family matters.
Francis, the first Jesuit pope, also would find Philadelphia to be a bastion of his brother Jesuits. Old St. Joseph’s Church, two blocks from Independence Hall, has been operated by the order since its founding in 1733. The city also is home to St. Joseph’s University and St. Joseph’s Prep, Jesuit institutions, and the Gesu School, the only Jesuit elementary school in the nation.
Pope Francis generated great excitement just about everywhere in the Catholic world, and his presence in Philadelphia undoubtedly would be a joyous occasion.
Some of the Gesu School students sent Pope Francis a letter asking him to visit the school to “witness Jesuit ideals reshaping a city.”
How could he resist?