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House bans cash gifts, not enough critics say - abc27 WHTM

House bans cash gifts, not enough critics say

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

It was issued earnestly and with pride at the Capitol Wednesday, and it felt like trumpets should be blown to properly capture the moment.

Perhaps men in red velvet coats unfurling a scroll containing the words from on high.

It came under the seal of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and it was called an "Action in Writing."

Let the record show that on April 2 (perhaps one day too late) in the year of our Lord Two-Thousand and Fourteen, the House banned gifts of cash to lawmakers and staffers.

There were five paragraphs that began with Whereas and four that began with Resolved.

Bottom line: "Resolved, that no Member or 'public employee' who is employed by the House may accept a cash gift unless from a spouse, parent, parent by marriage, sibling, child, grandchild, other family member or friend."

So it is stated.

So it shall be.

A ban on cash gifts, in black and white, signed by leaders from both parties.

"The vast majority of Republican and Democrat members never knew it was before legal to accept cash gifts," said Steve Miskin, House Republican Spokesman. "Clearly that's something that has to stop and that's what we're doing."

Lawmakers learned that cash gifts were legal as fallout from the Philly four. Four Democratic Representatives from the city who reportedly took cash from a lobbyist and were caught on tape doing it in an Attorney General sting.

The case has been dropped by the AG. But the shoes continue to drop at the Capitol, including Wednesday's House "Action in Writing." In Pennsylvania, it has recently been learned, it is not illegal for lawmakers to take cash, or any other, gifts as long as it's not - wink-wink, nudge-nudge - in return for a vote and as long as it's reported on the lawmaker's annual ethics form. None of the Philly four reported the alleged cash payments on their year-end ethics forms.

But taking cash, as of Wednesday's proclamation, would be a no-no for House members. 

Katie McGinty, Democratic candidate for governor, came to Harrisburg Wednesday to say enough is enough.

"What we're here for today is to call for an absolute, total, no asterisk, no footnote, gift ban," McGinty said at a Capitol press conference.

McGinty said the House's ban on cash isn't good enough.

"If it's not ok for someone to receive an envelope stuffed with cash, is it ok to receive an envelope stuffed with tickets to Tahiti?" McGinty asked. "That's clearly not ok. Why should we allow it?"

Cynics would point out to McGinty that the state allows it because the state has always allowed it and never bothers to stop it.

Even after Bonusgate and Computergate, after lawmakers are convicted and leaders imprisoned, there is still no LAW banning legislators from taking gifts from people trying to influence them.

In a statement, Attorney General Kathleen Kane applauded the House's ban on cash gifts, saying, "Ethics laws for the state's elected officials are long overdue. The public trust is eroded by cash gifts."

It's unclear what real teeth are in the House's ban on cash gifts. Violators "could" be sent to the Ethics Committee and "could" be disciplined by that body, or the evidence "could" be sent to the Attorney General. Or the consequences "could" be nothing, or maybe double-secret probation.  

 The Senate is expected to pass a similar ban on cash gifts next week.

There's also a degree of head shaking at the Capitol that legislative chambers  must put in writing that members shouldn't take envelopes full of cash.

McGinty, who hopes to become an elected official, says a full ban on all gifts for all public officials is a better way to go.

"We're just reaching a tipping point," McGinty said. "We've gotta get real on this issue because the public outrage, the public disgust, is at a fever pitch."

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