Wolf’s “Citizens First” Reforms Won’t Solve Many Problems

Today, Gov. Wolf  introduced a slew of “government reforms” to tackle Pennsylvania’s corruption problem. Here is our quick take on each.

Gift Ban

In theory, this seems like a good reform. However, it’s difficult to implement. For example, bans usually include exemptions for legislators’ family and friends. But a legislator’s husband or friend could also be a lobbyist. And would a ban only apply to registered lobbyists? If so, failing to register as a lobbyist would be an easy way to circumvent the ban.

Moreover, this ban relies on self-reporting of gifts. It doesn't prevent bribery or quid pro quos. Both are already illegal, and anyone accepting a bribe isn’t likely to report it.

Campaign Finance Restrictions

Giving politicians power to control what individuals can donate to other politicians, including their opponents, is a bad idea. Limiting contributions hasn’t ended corruption or curtailed the influence of special interests at the federal level. Nor have contribution limits led to better government or more trust in government in states that have implemented them.

As my colleague Jessica points out, this proposal is ironic as Wolf has received a whopping $6.1 million from government unions—the same unions he negotiates contracts with. And the same unions who use state resources to collect their campaign contributions. If Gov. Wolf were serious about government reform, he’d support paycheck protection.

No Budget, No Pay

The populist idea of no pay for elected officials and staff during budget gridlock is misguided. Key example: Governor Wolf vetoed the budget in its entirety, which led to a nine-month budget impasse.

In other words, Gov. Wolf could unilaterally create a budget impasse and deny pay for every legislator. Given the governor’s history of holding hostages during budget negotiations, it’s a bad idea to give the governor the power to veto lawmakers' pay.

Requiring Receipts for Per Diem Expenses

This is a necessary reform, which CF has long supported. As we’ve pointed out, nearly every business requires receipts for expense reimbursements. In contrast, lawmakers can take upwards of $30,000 in “per diems” annually (supposedly to cover food and lodging while traveling), without providing a single receipt. Senate Bill 732 would address this problem.

Overall, these reforms only address the symptoms of the real problem: Government has too much power. Over the last few months, we’ve debated taxing one industry the governor doesn’t like, giving potentially billions of dollars in incentives to the world’s richest man, offering millions in tax breaks to Hollywood studios, and taxpayer-funded collection of political money for special interests.

If you wonder why there is so much “money in politics,” it’s because politicians decide who gets the money.