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It's time to end gifts to legislators

04/02/2014 10:56AM, Published by ACL, Categories: Opinion, In Print

Letter to the Editor:

In Pennsylvania, giving gifts to legislators is big business. 

Under current law, only gifts valued over $250 or transportation and lodging over $650 must be disclosed. However, in Pennsylvania, any gifts of any value can legally be given to legislators, as long as it can’t be linked directly to a vote. This is an improper law and practice that is counter to the principles on which our government was founded. The public knows these gifts are given for only one reason, and one reason only -- to enhance influence over policy. The legislature must not be permitted to be sold to the highest bidder.

In New Jersey, lobbyists are prohibited from giving legislators anything worth more than $250 per year. Ohio has a limit of $75 a year for any gift or hospitality. Even Philadelphia recently voted to limit gifts to a value of no more than $99 a year and prohibited cash gifts entirely. It is time to change the laws in Pennsylvania.

I believe that any gift of more than $50 per year should be prohibited. I believe that a small gift threshold is acceptable because I know that groups, schools, and nonprofits will often give a hat, T-shirt or coffee mug to a legislator to thank him or her for a visit. These gifts would certainly not sway a vote and are given with all good intentions. They are reasonable tokens of appreciation that are also given to volunteers and supporters. 

Accepting expensive gifts, travel and envelopes of cash gives well-funded and powerful lobbyists unequal access to the legislature and dilutes the power of the people's voice. Legislators are paid well to do their job and I believe they should do the job they are paid to do without accepting gifts from those who want to influence state policy.

Susan Rzucidlo

Democratic candidate for PA State House, 158th District

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