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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: December 2, 2014 11:31 AM
From: Senator Lloyd K. Smucker
To: All Senate members
Subject: Gift Ban
Pennsylvania is one of only ten states with no limits on gifts to public officials and their staffs. This position has traditionally been a source of public criticism whenever financial disclosure statements were filed. Recently, it became untenable once several state legislators were caught on tape accepting gifts they did not disclose, gifts that may have been illegally tied to votes. Merely requiring the disclosure of gifts received above a certain value is no longer regarded by the public as an effective guard against corruption.

In April, the Senate unanimously passed a strong ban on cash gifts, applying to public officials and public employees across the state. Senate Resolution 339 was also unanimously approved putting such a ban in our rules. The commentary at the time, while highly supportive of those steps, urged a broader reform of banning non-cash gifts. As the result of some extensive discussions and a review of testimony received during a public hearing by the Senate State Government Committee, a comprehensive gift ban proposal has been developed.

This measure is essential toward rebuilding public confidence that our laws and policies are shaped through thoughtful deliberation rather than by undue influence on the part of special interests.

This legislation will:

• Incorporate the cash gift ban included in SB 1327;
• Prohibit the solicitation of gifts by public officials and public employees;
• Ban all gifts with limited, reasonable exceptions; and
• Apply to all public officials and public employees, as SB 1327 did.

Gifts to public officials and public employees will be prohibited from:

• Lobbyists;
• Principals;
• Anyone with an existing government contract;
• Anyone seeking a government contract; and
• Anyone seeking to influence official action.

The legislation will also prohibit gifts to relatives of public officials and public employees if the gift is given because of the official’s or employee’s position.

“Gift” will be defined to include anything of value, including items, meals, travel, lodging and entertainment. Exemptions will include:

• Gifts valued at $50 or less, provided it is not from a lobbyist or principal, with an annual limit of $250 on such gifts;
• Gifts from a parent, sibling, spouse, child, stepchild, stepparent, stepsibling, grandparent, grandchild, parent-in-law, sibling-in-law or other close relative when the circumstances make it clear that the motivation for the action was a personal or family relationship;
• Gifts of nominal value, such as greeting cards, pens, baseball caps and T-shirts;
• Informational materials;
• Awards or prizes given to competitors in any contest or event open to the public, including random drawings;
• Gifts available to the public or offered to members of a group or class in which membership is not related to being a public official or public employee;
• Honorary degrees and nonmonetary public service awards;
• Plaques, trophies or other commemorative items intended for presentation and valued at $100 or less;
• Voluntary gift exchanges between public officials and their staffs;
• Items paid for by federal, state or local government;
• Gifts given on the basis of legitimate personal friendship;
• Entertainment provided as part of an event at a private residence; and
• Campaign contributions otherwise reported as required by law.

The legislation will also include the following common-sense exceptions for meals, which will apply so long as the meal is provided by the organizer, not someone purchasing a block of tickets:

• Meals at regularly scheduled events sponsored by a constituent or statewide organization;
• Meals provided when the public official or public employee is speaking to a group or participating in a discussion panel;
• Meals at widely attended events when the public official or public employee is invited in connection with performance of official duties and provided by the sponsor of the event;
• Meals at charity fund-raising events; and
• Meals at campaign events.

Should you have any questions regarding this legislation, please contact Matthew E. Parido (mparido@pasen.gov).

Introduced as SB174