HARRISBURG -- World Series tickets, foreign travel, a yacht club membership and golf outings are just a few of the things state lawmakers availed themselves of last year without dipping into their own pockets.
Lawmakers received more than $61,500 in travel and gifts, according to statements of financial interest that were required to be filed with the state Ethics Commission by Friday. That doesn't include several thousand spent on food, rental space and giveaways -- such as golf balls and printed tote bags -- for senior expos and health fairs organized by lawmakers.
Forty-nine of the state's 253 senators and representatives disclosed receiving gifts, lodging, hospitality and travel to places including Israel, Australia and Japan.
Currently, legislators must report tangible gifts of more than $250 per year from any entity and travel, lodging and hospitality of more than $650.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, was welcomed to a conference in Ashville, N.C., with a reception, dinner and private tour of The Biltmore House, which calls itself the country's largest home, complete with expansive gardens and America's most visited winery. Also on the agenda were meetings on school safety and investing. The State Legislative Leaders Foundation picked up the $1,837 tab for the three-day conference.
Rep. Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, received World Series tickets courtesy of American Water. From the Sunshine Foundation, a group that grants wishes to seriously ill children, he received two tickets to Universal Studios in Florida where, according to the Associated Press, he chaperoned a group of disabled children.
Gov. Ed Rendell, also required to file, disclosed taking 10 plane trips paid for by Hillary Clinton during her presidential primary campaign, three paid for by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and one paid for by Barack Obama during his presidential campaign.
Locally, state Rep. Peter Daley, D-California, reported receiving $700 in ski passes from Pennsylvania Ski Operators of Hershey. Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, outdid him, having received $2,400 in "VIP ski passes" from the Pennsylvania Ski Area Association. Mr. Leach later clarified that he received four laminated passes but has never used them.
Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Ellwood City, took a $6,300 trip arranged by the American Council of Young Professionals, a nonprofit group that brings together young leaders around the world to discuss political culture and economic ideas.
"No tax dollars went to it. It was fully funded," Mr. Gibbons said.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, reported a trip to Washington, D.C., where he addressed the Eagle Forum about his efforts to curb illegal immigration. The group paid his $823 hotel bill.
"They are a family-values group and they had an interest in some of the legislative work I've been doing," he said.
Meanwhile, Highmark of Pittsburgh provided state Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, with $580 worth of Penguins hockey tickets. The Allegheny League of Municipalities provided $778 in travel expenses for him to attend its spring conference, where he was a featured speaker.
The league also picked up the tab --$816 -- for Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, to attend. The Allegheny County and Western Pennsylvania Association of Township Commissioners, meanwhile, provided $974 worth of lodging, food and travel expenses for Mr. Logan to attend another conference.
Pugliese Associates, a Harrisburg lobbying group, paid $706 for Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, to attend two golf outings last summer.
The State Legislative Leaders Foundation provided $1,758 so then-House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, could discuss the significance of the 2008 election at December conference in Charleston, S.C.
Some of the gifts of travel may have been appropriate, said activist Russ Diamond, but he questioned freebies given by lobbyists, saying they have the potential to sway votes on important legislative issues.
"We really should get to the point where we ban gifts from lobbying groups, period," said Mr. Diamond, founder of PA Clean Sweep. "Somebody wants to give away tickets to the World Series? There's only one reason companies do that: so they get a favorable audience with a legislator. If you're a lobbyist, you shouldn't [be allowed to] give gifts."
At the very least, lawmakers should be required to report all gifts they receive, Barry Kauffman, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Pennsylvania.
"The public should be able to know who is trying to influence their Legislature and in what ways and to what amounts," Mr. Kauffman said. "People should be concerned about who is trying to curry the favor of their legislators by giving gifts, entertainment, hospitality and lodging."
Correction/Clarification: (Published May 6, 2009) Democratic State Rep. Paul Costa lives in Wilkins. State House Majority Whip Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, was the majority leader in December, when the State Legislative Leaders Foundation paid his way to a conference in South Carolina. This story as originally published May 5, 2009 about gifts and travel perks for state lawmakers listed an incorrect residence for Mr. Costa and title for Mr. DeWeese. The same story indicated that Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, received $2,400 worth of VIP ski passes from the Pennsylvania Ski Area Association. Mr. Leach clarified on May 5, 2009 that he received four laminated passes but has never used them.
Tracie Mauriello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141.