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Company to provide refreshments at lawmaker's open house

| Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, 10:57 p.m.

State Rep. Jim Marshall said he sees no conflict of interest in allowing Duquesne Light to pay for refreshments at an open house for his new district office next month.

“It's snacks, maybe coffee, not some kind of catered event,” said Marshall, a Big Beaver Borough Republican and member of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Such gifts are not banned in Pennsylvania.

“There's no prohibition of this. There's a reporting requirement if the cost exceeds $650,” said Rob Caruso, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.

Marshall does not think the cost will be that high.

“I'll be surprised if it costs $65. It could just be a large box of cookies,” he said.

Duquesne Light spokesman Joseph Vallarian would not disclose the cost.

“This is not unusual for the company. Duquesne Light supports elected officials within our service territory with contributions for a variety of community events, be they senior fairs or open houses,” Vallarian said.

If reporting the gift is required, Marshall will have until May 2015 to do so.

“That's way too long afterwards, and it's after the election. That's a big problem with the law,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, an advocacy group that supports banning gifts and improving disclosure laws.

“This is a person they really want to be on their side. There is a good lobbying reason for them to want to get close to Rep. Marshall because of the committee he's on,” Kauffman said.

In recent years, lobbyists and businesses have paid for some Pennsylvania lawmakers to take trips to Ireland, Poland, Taiwan and Turkey. Others accepted tickets to Steelers, Penn State, Pitt and 76ers games, according to disclosure statements filed with the Ethics Commission this year.

More states are moving toward gift bans, according to Kauffman.

“In Wisconsin and Kentucky, this donation would have been illegal,” he said.

Rick Wills is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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