PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Gov. Tom Corbett and his wife, Susan, accepted gifts including seats at professional sporting events, tickets to a gala for the Philadelphia Orchestra and private jet travel over a two-year period, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
The Corbetts disclosed gifts worth more than $11,000 from lobbyists and business executives with interests in state policy in 2010, while Corbett was campaigning for governor, and in 2011, his first year in office, the Philadelphia Daily News (http://bit.ly/WGpMpg ) reported.
The state Democratic Party promptly filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission, demanding an investigation. And John Hanger, the only declared Democratic candidate for the 2014 gubernatorial election, called on Corbett to repay the value of the gifts.
State law allows elected officials to accept gifts, though they must list any gifts with an aggregate value of $250 or more and transportation, lodging or hospitality with an aggregate value of $650 or more on their annual statements of financial interest filed with the State Ethics Commission.
Among the gifts Corbett listed:
– Tickets worth $472 to hockey’s Winter Classic, featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, and a related brunch on New Year’s Day 2011, provided by a lobbyist for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Later that year, as governor, Corbett helped broker a deal that resolved a high-profile dispute over a regional health care contract between UPMC and Highmark Inc.
– The chief executive of Empire Education Group, a Pottsville-based beauty-school chain, flew Corbett on a private jet to an event in Pittsburgh – a trip whose value Corbett estimated at $1,407, the price of a first-class plane ticket. Ten months later, Corbett signed a bill that makes it easier for cosmetology students who attend schools like those that Empire operates to obtain a state license.
– A pair of $2,500 tickets to a January 2010 Philadelphia Academy of Music anniversary concert were provided by the influential Blank Rome law firm, whose lobbyists represent a variety of interest groups at the Capitol. The firm also bought Corbett a $65 ticket to the Philadelphia Phillies’ home opener in 2010.
Corbett spokeswoman Kelli Roberts said the Republican governor has fully complied with all state disclosure requirements for gifts and campaign contributions.
“The governor’s actions have always been, and will continue to be, transparent and free of any conflict of interest,” she said.
Critics told the Daily News that, while Corbett appears to be following the letter of the law, the gifts reflect a cozy relationship between the Corbetts and special interests.
It’s “just unseemly,” said Christopher Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
Barry Kauffman, director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania, said gift-givers “understand that even if it’s a small gift, these benefits affect human nature.”
The critics also told the Daily News that Corbett may have violated the Governor’s Code of Conduct that Gov. Dick Thornburgh implemented in the 1980s.
But the paper also noted that the code is an executive order, not a law, and that it contains a loophole that allows a governor to accept gifts from a “friend” whose giving is motivated by a “personal” relationship.
Hanger, a former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary and state utility regulator, cited the code in demanding that Corbett repay the value of the gifts.
“By accepting such gifts, he effectively invalidates the Governor’s Code of Conduct that has been part of our law since 1980,” he said in a posting on his campaign website.
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