Pushing for a gift ban, activists tear down ‘Wall of Corruption’ outside Pa. Capitol

Produced By: - June 21, 2022 2:08 pm

Members of the activist group MarchOnHarrisburg erected a metaphoric “Wall of Corruption” outside the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday, as they renewed their call for passage of a legislative gift ban.

Advocates said the wall, which they argue was paid for lobbyists and special interests, kept everyday Pennsylvanians from having their voices heard in the halls of power.

“We’re here to bypass the House majority leaders and call for our own vote of 102 [lawmakers] to vote for the gift ban,” the group’s executive director, Rabbi Michael Pollack, said Tuesday.

Under House rules, it takes 102 votes for a bill to pass the Republican-controlled, 203-member chamber. 

Gift ban advocates look to circumvent GOP leadership, pressure lawmakers

“No matter what the people at the top do, if 102 [lawmakers] come together, they can make a difference,” Pollack said, adding that an as-yet-unidentified lawmaker will call for a vote on the ban on Sept. 12, when the chamber is scheduled to be in session.  

Previous efforts to tighten Pennsylvania’s gift laws have died in the General Assembly, the Capital-Star has previously reported. But Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike have expressed a desire for a more comprehensive ban over the last year.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, proposing limits on what lawmakers and state employees can accept as gifts and amenities associated with public office cleared the House State Government Committee last October. The legislation, however, has yet to see a floor vote.

Under current state law, lawmakers can take unlimited gifts and hospitality — such as meals and free trips — from those who hope to influence or flatter them. MarchOnHarrisburg has described the practice as legalized bribery.

Opponents of a ban have argued that imposing too strict of a ban could prevent a lawmaker from accepting small but meaningful offerings, such as a bottle of water on a hot day or a t-shirt from a youth sports team. They also point to language now in the statute requiring lawmakers to file disclosures with the state Ethics Commission if their yearly total of gifts exceeds $250 and hospitality exceeds $650, the Capital-Star previously reported.

MarchOnHarrisburg has spent months pressuring top lawmakers, including Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, both Centre Country Republicans, to take action, but to no avail. Earlier this year, the groups decided to bypass the senior leaders and make their case to lawmakers directly.

Protesters disrupt Pa. House leader’s speech, demand lawmakers pass a gift ban

On Tuesday, Pollack and comrades planned to take the bricks from their wall, and give them to all 203 House lawmakers. The bricks were plastered with a message exhorting them to action. 

“Can’t we see that we’re all against corruption?” Rachel Murphy, the group’s digital director, asked her audience Tuesday, a mix of state employees on their lunch hour, tourists, lawmakers, and her fellow advocates. “We can see the humanity in each other. But they’re working tirelessly to divide us.”

Murphy slammed lawmakers for pushing performative bills limiting reproductive freedoms and attacking the rights of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, even as they ignored the gift ban legislation.

“Everyone I know outside this Capitol thinks corruption should be illegal,” she said.

Pollack ended the rally with a roundhouse kick to the wall, sending the bricks flying. 

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.


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