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Transparency needs addressed more urgently

According to an article from the Pennsylvania Capital-Star and Spotlight PA, published in Monday’s edition of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, the state Legislature is considering a package of bills to improve transparency and accountability in political lobbying.

“Lobbyists can be a very important part of what we do here to represent millions of Pennsylvanians as they represent millions of Pennsylvanians and bring expertise to issues that legislators often lack,” state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said in a January speech, according to the article. “However, it is important that our interactions with them meet the standard that the public is comfortable with.”

While there is much to be lauded in the package, there also are two points on which we have reservations.

The legislation contains many provision that would improve state government — limits on consultants lobbying lawmakers for whom they provided campaign services, a requirement that lobbyists complete ethics training and a ban on state agencies hiring outside firms to perform lobbying, among others.

But the proposals fail to address a crucial issue — lobbyists can give gifts to the lawmakers they are trying to persuade, and if the gift costs less than $250, lawmakers are not even required to disclose the exchange to the public.

It is essential that the public know more about who is courting favor with lawmakers, so that voters themselves can judge the propriety of these gifts. We would hope lawmakers can recognize accepting gifts, particularly large gifts, can foster a perception that lawmakers are reaching decisions not on the merits of debate but because of the generosity of lobbyists. While limits on the value of gifts are perhaps warranted, full disclosure and transparency should be something Pennsylvania’s voters insist on.

Second, as we referenced with the quote from Corman earlier, this is a subject the legislature has been discussing for at least 10 months. Trust in our Legislature and transparency before the public should be a more urgent priority.

A spokesman for Corman told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star that the senator is “certainly open to considering other potential reforms that promote greater transparency in government.”

We hope that Corman and other lawmakers are open to better transparency regarding gifts from lobbyists, and we hope they are open to reaching decision on the crucial matters of transparency and accountability more quickly than they have addressed the issues so far.

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