State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Pa. Society's high-end bar crawl begins

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 7, 2012 1:24 AM
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For one weekend every December, the commonwealth experiences a great migration of its political insiders to New York City for a slew of parties and fundraisers. But some say the annual gathering known as Pennsylvania Society isn’t the clandestine meeting of elites some make it out to be.

The constellation of parties hosted by politicians, law firms, and lobbyists is held in the orbit of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The governor traditionally addresses the gathering. Elected officials hold parties and fundraisers. Candidates and not-yet-announced office hopefuls make the rounds, gauging their support.

Government reform advocate Eric Epstein (EP-stine), of Rock the Capital, said he’s wary of all that off-campus hobnobbing.

“All power elites in all three branches of government get together for a weekend in New York City and cut deals that affect everybody in Pennsylvania for the rest of the year,” he said.

Epstein says he’s never been to Pennsylvania Society. But Democratic strategist Larry Ceisler has. He hosts one of the weekend’s many soirees, and argues for the party as a great political equalizer. He said the 114th annual gathering is actually an exercise in good government, because of the accessibility of elected officials.

“I have seen it firsthand where people who run nonprofits who are losing state funding or even anti-drilling activists have been able to talk to the people who lead the general assembly or talk to the governor,” said Ceisler.

But some note the event is exclusive, with many of the parties invitation-only. It’s also expensive. Price of entry into some fundraisers is several thousands of dollars. Tickets to the dinner anchoring the whole affair are between $350 and $400.

“People pay for this out of campaign funds, corporate accounts, personal funds, but it is an expensive undertaking,” said House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton.

“Some people have commented that it’s a very strange event,” he added, “because all the people you work with and meet and deal with in Pennsylvania simply go up to New York City for the weekend and you see all the same people there.”

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