Their View: Pa. pols parade to state prisons

The following editorial appeared in The (Hanover) Evening Sun.

Have we had enough yet?

Are we sick enough of the casual corruption that seems to underlie every level of government in Pennsylvania to rise up and demand change?

State Treasurer Rob McCord, who will plead guilty to federal extortion charges, is just the latest in a long list of corrupt state political leaders.

Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Former House Speakers Bill DeWeese and John Perzel.

Former Revenue Secretary and Democratic state House leader Stephen Stetler.

Former Sen. Vince Fumo.

Former Rep. Mike Veon.

Former Sen. Bob Mellow.

And so on. The list of Pennsylvania politicians who violated the public’s trust and were sentenced to jail or other confinement is disheartening.

Recent studies consistently put Pennsylvania in the top 10 of most corrupt states. A report last year said corruption in the 10 sleaziest states costs each citizen about $1,300 a year.

And so it comes as exactly no surprise when it turns out the state treasurer — the guy in charge of our money — was shaking down a law firm and a property management company for big donations to his gubernatorial campaign.

Yes, Pennsylvania dodged a bullet when it chose Tom Wolf over McCord. Imagine the spectacle of FBI agents showing up at the inauguration and slapping cuffs on our brand new governor.

Phew — lucky us!

OK, but what are we going to do about this corruption?

Well, electing Wolf was a first step in the right direction.

One of his first moves in office was to impose a ban on gifts for his administration. Other state agencies such as the Liquor Control Board and the Turnpike Commission (another den of corruption and waste) have since followed suit.

So far, the General Assembly has not imposed a gift ban — and let’s hope it’s quickly shamed into such a sensible ethics measure. It just defies credibility to think that lobbyists and others doing or seeking to do business with politicians would give gifts such as trips and tickets to events (which Gov. Tom Corbett routinely accepted) without some “understating” of future considerations.

A gift ban would be a start. But there are many other ways to cut corruption that our leaders have failed to enact. How about campaign finance limits? Pennsylvania has none. That’s how McCord could put the squeeze on would-be donors to the tune of $25,000.

Wolf has proposed limiting campaign contributions to $5,000 — along with improved transparency. Many have rightly noted the irony of a rich guy who gets elected with massive donations of his own cash wanting to tighten the spigot for future candidates. But it’s still the right thing to do.

He also proposed reforming the “crony contract” system with law firms, requiring a strict bidding process. Other needed changes include per diem reforms in the General Assembly and redistricting reforms.

Granted, laws and regulations can never completely eliminate corruption. Those who want to enrich or aggrandize themselves will simply break the law.

But the least our leaders could do is put ethical best practices in place that might slow the parade of pols to the penitentiary that we’ve seen here over the past couple of decades.