Pa. Gov.-elect Wolf to impose ‘No, thank you’ rule on appointees
HARRISBURG — A code of ethical conduct for Gov.-elect Tom Wolf’s transition team foreshadows something Wolf plans to impose on his first day as governor: a gift ban on his appointees and executive branch employees.
It’s called the “No, thank you” rule, said Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan. “Anyone who works for him in the executive branch will not be able to accept a gift.”
Wolf plans to sign an executive order to prohibit gifts, even though state law allows officials to accept gifts worth up to $250 without reporting them, or gifts worth more than that amount if disclosed. The law sets a $650 threshold for travel, hospitality and lodging.
Critics during Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign pointed to his acceptance of legally allowed gifts, totaling more than $28,000 during his tenure, from tickets to sporting events and Broadway shows to a free yacht vacation.
Wolf, a Democrat, will be inaugurated as Corbett’s successor on Jan. 20.
In his Campaign for a Fresh Start, Wolf spelled out his rule on gifts — for himself, his Governor’s Office staff and his appointees to state agencies and boards:
“The rule will be easy to apply and easy to report — no free lunches, no free tickets to ball games, and no free trips to conferences or vacation resorts. If you come and work for Tom Wolf in Harrisburg, there will be no ‘gifts’ as part of your job.”
Barry Kauffman, lobbyist for Common Cause of Pennsylvania, said the rule is “strong incentive to do the right thing. It means you’ll be beholden to no one.”
Common Cause long has sought a gift ban in state law, without success.
A scandal that unfolded this year revealed an undercover lobbyist working for the Attorney General’s office had recorded four Philadelphia legislators taking thousands of dollars in cash. A former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge is accused of accepting a $2,000 bracelet. She has been charged with bribery by the Philadelphia district attorney, whose office continues to investigate the legislators.
An executive order won’t keep employees from taking gifts, Kauffman said — “if they want to put their jobs on the line.”
The ban would not apply to the Legislature. That’s why Common Cause wants an across-the-board law.
The late Gov. Robert P. Casey, a Democrat, imposed a similar gift ban and, said Kauffman, “he enforced it, too.”
Katie McGinty, Wolf’s chief of staff, on Monday became the first to sign the code of conduct. Broader than just gifts, it requires disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and includes a pledge not to use a government position for personal gain. The statement says the signatory will be “impartial and beholden to the people.”
Incoming members of Wolf’s administration will sign the ethics form, Sheridan said. The executive order banning gifts will solidify that provision for people he brings in and executive branch employees.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol writer. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or email@example.com.