Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
A look at how public officials treated free tickets to a glitzy event in Philadelphia shows a wide variety of interpretations of the state ethics law.
In 2012, the Barnes Foundation celebrated its art collection’s new home with a gala in the new building. Between 2006 and 2011 the museum received more than $47 million in public funding.
The May 18 black tie event featured dinner and a live performance by songstress Norah Jones. At least three Philadelphia Democratic state lawmakers received free tickets to the event, along with Gov. Corbett, First Lady Susan Corbett, and Corbett’s former chief of staff, Steve Aichele, and Carol Aichele, head of Pennsylvania’s Department of State.
The tickets cost $5,000 apiece. Pennsylvania’s ethics law requires the disclosure of tangible gifts over $250, and travel, hospitality or entertainment over $650.
Some state officials reports the tickets to the state Ethics Commission, while others did not. Many were photographed at the event.
Here’s how the tickets were handled by various state officials:
Rep. Evans listed two free tickets to the event, valued $5,000 each, and given to him by the foundation.
A tale of two senators
Sen. Williams hasn't disclosed a free ticket -- his disclosure forms have been amended since he was first questioned by witf, but the amendments do not detail a ticket. His staff cites technical difficulties. A spokeswoman said the senator received one free ticket to the Barnes event, courtesy of PECO Energy, and valued the ticket at $300.
"This was a clear mistake,” Williams said in a statement. “I'm in the process of correcting what is a clerical oversight.”
Sen. Hughes listed receiving two $5,000 tickets, but only after being asked about them by witf.
“It was an oversight on our part,” said his spokesman, Ben Waxman. “It was a clerical error that was corrected after it was brought to our attention.” The tickets are disclosed as having a $5,000 value.
And now, the administration
The governor and his wife, First Lady Susan Corbett, also received free tickets to the gala. They did not report the gift to the state Ethics Commission. Steve and Carol Aichele also didn’t report the gifts to the state Ethics Commission.
A spokeswoman said that’s because the tickets fall below the reporting threshold. The Barnes Foundation told the governor’s office the bottom-line cost of the party was $300 per person (the same figure reported by Williams). The remaining $4,700 could be deducted by paying guests as a charitable contribution.
Corbett did disclose the tickets under the Governor’s Code of Conduct, a stringent set of rules for administration officials created by a 1980 executive order. The filings were obtained by an open records request. Under the Code, Corbett’s office was required to list any gifts more than $100. He listed the two tickets, and declared their value at $300 each.
Published in State House Sound Bites
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