4 Democrats vying for Pa. governor pledge to eradicate corruption
They pepper their platforms with terms would-be reformers use: Accountability. Integrity. Transparency.
The four Democrats in the gubernatorial primary —York businessman Tom Wolf, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and former Secretary of Environmental Protection Katie McGinty — point to examples of how they would clean up Harrisburg.
Barry Kauffman, executive director of nonpartisan government reform group Common Cause Pennsylvania, said it would be “refreshing” to see a governor make ethics reform a priority. The state, he said, has an “incestuous” relationship between money and politics.
“How long can you go when there's an indictment and conviction and public officials going to jail several times a year?” he said.
As the May 20 primary nears, half of Pennsylvania voters report little to no trust in state government, a body whose members have landed behind bars for public corruption. Gallup in April found 3 percent of Pennsylvanians had a “great deal” of trust in state government, but 42 percent had “not very much,” and 10 percent said none.
The primary candidates support some form of a gift ban or gift restrictions on elected and appointed officials. Wolf and Schwartz propose ways to remove cronyism from public contracts. McCord and McGinty support another reapportionment process, citing “gerrymandered” districts.
Public trust and ethics laws are front-of-mind in the Legislature this year.
A sting operation caught four lawmakers allegedly taking cash bribes. Attorney General Kathleen Kane did not file charges, citing flawed evidence. She turned the case over to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who criticized Kane for not filing charges.
State law does not prohibit lawmakers from receiving gifts as long as they are not meant to influence their positions. They must disclose gifts worth more than $250. The Senate banned cash gifts to elected officials. It awaits consideration in the House.
Internal reforms can be an uphill battle, said Rep. Dan Truitt, R-Berks. Truitt supports eliminating per diems, a flat-rate payment lawmakers can receive to cover travel and expenses. The federal rate as of October was $157 per day. Critics point to the system as a source for potential abuse, because receipts for expenses are not required.
Last year, Truitt netted a dozen co-sponsors. This year, he has 20.
“This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “Someone who is far enough up the food chain has to take on these issues and say they're going to make it happen.”
None of the candidates' published platforms includes reforming the per diem system or reducing the size of the Legislature. Pennsylvania has among the largest and most expensive legislatures in the country. Lawmakers in the 253-member body receive a base pay of $84,012, and the annual budget is $277 million.
McGinty, McCord and Wolf said they support an expense-based reimbursement system. Schwartz supports making records more publicly accessible and working with legislative leaders to avoid abuse, said a campaign spokesman.
Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511.