Freebie folly: Governor's behavior is no gift to the public interest

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There's the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, but in between there's a lot of wiggle room.

It's disappointing that a governor whose professional career was built on law and order, as a federal prosecutor and state attorney general, now is occupying that mushy middle ground when it comes to accepting tickets, trips and other items of value from his friends and associates.

The Philadelphia Daily News this week reported that Gov. Tom Corbett and his wife, Susan, accepted gifts worth more than $11,000 from lobbyists and business executives in 2010 while Mr. Corbett was campaigning and in 2011, his first year in the governor's office.

Among them: $472 worth of tickets and a brunch during hockey's Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2011 at Heinz Field, provided by a lobbyist for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; a $1,422 trip to Rhode Island for a yachting vacation with the owner of a business that recycles fracking well waste; an $1,800 donation from an insurance firm to help pay for Mrs. Corbett's inaugural gown and coat; tickets to a couple of Steelers games and the Philadelphia Phillies home opener.

And while it is true, as the governor's spokesman said, that Mr. Corbett has fully complied with reporting laws and made his declarations available online, that only addresses part of the issue. Declaring the gifts, as required by law, is a transparent process.

The larger goal behind rules that mandate the reporting, however, is to stop elected and appointed officials from taking freebies in the first place. That's particularly necessary when the donors are in positions where they stand to benefit from policies endorsed by the most powerful officeholder in the state.

Why would a governor want to risk undermining public confidence in his decision-making? There's even a Governor's Code of Conduct, in place since 1984, that's supposed to prevent this sort of thing, although Mr. Corbett is not the first governor to sidestep it.

None of this means Gov. Corbett should not be going to public events such as hockey, football or baseball games. It's appropriate for the governor to attend many of the activities that are available in his state. He just needs to pay his own way, either by buying his own tickets or reimbursing his hosts for their value.

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