- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The head of Common Cause Pennsylvania on Thursday renewed the organization’s call for a ban on gifts to public officials, citing news reports that four state lawmakers were caught on tape accepting money from a confidential informant during a criminal investigation.

Executive director Barry Kauffman said Thursday that a “seemingly unending litany of abuses of power” makes people cynical about the integrity of state government.

“It is long past time to draw some bright uncrossable lines in Pennsylvania’s ethics and lobbying laws,” Kauffman said. “Pennsylvania needs to follow the lead of other states that take government integrity seriously.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday that the lawmakers accepted the money as part of a sting operation that never produced charges. Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who inherited the matter when she took office early last year, said the investigation was poorly run and the case was considered to be fatally flawed by her staff, a federal law enforcement agency and the county prosecutor in Harrisburg.

Kane said about eight people in all took money that totaled just over $20,000.

Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act bans gifts that are given to influence an official’s decisions. Public officials must disclose gifts that are not from family or close friends and are worth $250 or total $650 in a given year.

Her top adviser, First Deputy Attorney General Adrian King, said Thursday he supported an outright ban on gifts to public officials.

“I think that any strengthening of the Ethics Act with respect to banning gifts is, quite frankly, trying to get the state up to a national standard,” King said. “I think anybody would agree with that.”

None of the four - all Philadelphia Democrats in the state House - has been charged with any crime.

On Wednesday, leaders of both parties in the House wrote to the ranking members of the House Ethics Committee to promise the committee will have adequate resources if it launches its own investigation.

“We want to make these assurances since, given the reports which have surfaced, it would likely be necessary that any review consider each member’s alleged conduct individually,” wrote Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.

Gene Stilp, a political activist who challenged the 2005 government pay raise law, disclosed he has filed formal complaints about the gifts with the U.S. attorney’s office in Harrisburg and the State Ethics Commission, which oversees compliance with gift disclosure requirements.

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