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Are gifts to Gov. Corbett improper? - abc27 WHTM

Dauphin County

Are gifts to Gov. Corbett improper?

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

It's public.

And now, thanks to the Philadelphia Daily News, it's publicized.

It's also easily found on the web: Governor Tom Corbett's Statement of Financial Interests form for 2011.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley calls it an example of good government. "It's full disclosure. It's full transparency for the whole world to see."

But what the world sees in the 11-page document is raising concern.

It shows prominent law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney giving Corbett tickets to Steelers' playoff games worth $325.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center gave him brunch and a ticket to the Pittsburgh Penguins Winter Classic valued at $472.

Businessman John Moran flew Corbett and his wife to Rhode Island in July of 2011. He also paid for the Corbett's hotel during the summer getaway.

Democratic candidate for governor John Hanger pounced on the Daily News report.

"Is it Christmas every day in the governor's mansion in the Corbett administration?" Hanger asked facetiously while holding a press conference across the street from the Governor's Residence. He set up a table with gift-wrapped boxes as a backdrop.

Hanger also held a copy of the Governor's Code of Conduct, originally enacted by Governor Thornburgh in 1980. The code bans executive branch employees from accepting gifts from anyone who has business in front of, or is regulated by, the state.

"We're not a Banana Republic," Hanger shouted over the traffic whizzing along Front Street. "Though we're behaving like one. We're behaving like government's for sale to the highest gift giver."

Harley emphasized that Hanger is a liberal running for governor and then insisted he's wrong.

"I don't believe there's an appearance of impropriety. I mean, the governor's allowed to have friends, and the friends are allowed to have business interests."

Harley said anyone with a driver's license technically has business before the state.

"At what point do you say, 'This is getting ridiculous?' "

But government watchdogs say what's ridiculous is Pennsylvania's lax law regarding gift giving to public officials. Basically anything goes, as long as they report it to the Ethics Commission Statement of Financial Interest form.

Gifts can have constituents questioning the motives of the gift-giver and the gift receiver.

"Did this person give him the gift because they're a friend of Tom Corbett's from long ago?" asks Barry Kauffman of CommonCause Pa. "Or did they give it to him because he's the governor and he can make things happen for them?"

The Pa. Ethics Commission is supposed to keep public officials on the up and up. The guy who runs it would like to see a ban on all gift giving to elected officials.

"It would make the job a little bit easier." said Acting Executive Director Rob Caruso. "Because if there's a complete ban on gifts and everyone knows what the playing field is, then they can't accept anything."

Of course, as Corbett is realizing, you can take the gift, but you also open yourself up to taking criticism.

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