Gift ban should be another reform no-brainer
Regardless of why a sting operation against four state legislators and others from Philadelphia ultimately crashed, the disconcerting fact is that four lawmakers who allegedly accepted about $20,000 in cash and gifts from a police informant three years ago still are running around the Capitol.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane dropped the case after she took office in 2013, contending that her predecessors fatally poisoned the case by dismissing more than 2,000 fraud charges against Tyron B. Ali, the informant they had recruited to entice public officials with bribes.
At any rate, the case has produced little more than the usual tut-tutting in Harrisburg, when the case cries for sweeping reforms to help gird legislators against temptation.
Incredibly, legislative rules actually allow state lawmakers to accept "gifts" from just about anybody, as long as they report anything over $250.
Since lawmakers have ensured that they are well-paid by the public, ostensibly to represent the public interest, there is no sound rationale for them to accept anything from anyone.
Yet the most recent scandal has inspired only momentum for partial reforms.
Republican Sens. Lisa Baker of Luzerne County and Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County have introduced a bill to bar lawmakers from accepting cash in any form from anyone attempting to influence legislation. No need to recheck your calendar; that's a pending bill in 2014. Legislators should be embarrassed that they even have to introduce it.
Even so, it applies only to money. There is no reason for lawmakers to be allowed to accept any gifts from anyone - the golf, free meals and other means that influence peddlers still use to get lawmakers' ears.
Lawmakers in both houses should simply ban all gifts, thus precluding the possibility of any misunderstanding among them or their legions of suitors.
While they're at it, they also should pass an unrelated but long overdue reform proposed by Republican Sen. Randy Vulakovich of Allegheny County. Rather than allowing lawmakers to collect a flat $159 for expenses they might or might not accrue while in Harrisburg, the bill would require them to submit receipts and be reimbursed for expenses they actually incur.
That's the definition of a no-brainer. Many lawmakers have taken to filing receipts anyway, but unvouchered, tax-free, flat-rate payments amounted to nearly $4 million over the last two-year legislative session.
These reforms should be easy. That they're not indicates the deeper underlying problem.