- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Foreign travel, personal gifts, cash and tickets to major league sports events are among more than $145,000 in freebies reported by Pennsylvania lawmakers in newly filed state financial disclosure forms.

The amount is considerably higher than in many recent years - just four years ago lawmakers reported only about $43,000 in gifts and other largesse.

Pennsylvania’s comparatively lax gift rules for state legislators drew protesters to the Capitol in the past week to push for a House committee to take action on a proposal to add new gift restrictions. Police cited more than two dozen people for disorderly conduct.

State law requires officials to disclose the value of gifts worth at least $250, except from family members or friends. They also must report transportation, lodging and hospitality worth at least $650 from a given source over the year.

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TRAVEL

Subsidized travel took lawmakers to at least 11 states, Washington, D.C, and the countries of Nigeria and New Zealand.

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, disclosed $750 from officials in Nigeria, a trip inspired by the Nigerians’ prior visit to the state Capitol. Harris said he spent the week exploring educational and development partnerships between Pennsylvania and the African nation.

Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Westmoreland, said the cost of his trip to New Zealand was split between $6,000 from the country’s parliament and $2,400 from the American Council of Young Political Leaders. Evankovich said his focus was on a Pacific trade deal as well as policies New Zealand has pursued that are fueling population growth.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, of Allegheny County, noted he accepted a $2,700, one-way plane ride from western Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, to attend a wedding. The plane trip was courtesy of Penn Waste, whose owner is state Sen. Scott Wagner, of York County. Turzai is widely expected to oppose Wagner for the Republican nomination next year to run against Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Through a spokesman, Turzai said he had a “time crunch” and was grateful for the ride. He rented a car at his own cost and drove back. Wagner said Turzai asked for his help and he obliged. “I do this periodically,” Wagner said. “I fly cancer patients, I don’t report that.”

The president of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, Rep. Angel Cruz, D-Philadelphia, collected about $11,000 in travel related to that organization, including trips to Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Orlando and, in December, to the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel in Hawaii.

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ENTERTAINMENT

Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, reported $5,000 worth of tickets from the Philadelphia 76ers and $850 in tickets from Temple University to see the Harlem Globetrotters and Cirque du Soleil. Nearly all were for her constituents, she said.

Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, collected $1,200 in Sixers tickets and 200 passes for the Philadelphia Zoo, valued at $4,600. She gave them to students, Scouts and organizations.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said the $2,100 in Sixers tickets he was given by a team co-owner and $810 in Pittsburgh Penguins hockey tickets from the franchise were for his personal use.

Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, disclosed the $1,000 cost of a pair of opening night gala ticket to the city orchestra. Hughes also reported $850 in costs for a September trip from the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky. His wife received a humanitarian award from the center.

Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, said he received $818 in ball tickets from the Academy of Music, the downtown concert hall. His office said Farnese reported the tickets even though the ball was canceled.

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CASH

Rep. Steve Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, disclosed an $11,000 “personal gift” from a woman he described as a longtime family friend he said “won a windfall of money.” The gift helped him deal with splitting up with the mother of one of his daughters, and to purchase a vehicle for another daughter, Kinsey said.

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LOAN

Sen. Camera Bartolotta, of Washington County, reported she owes money, at 5 percent interest, to a fellow member of the Republican caucus, Sen. Scott Wagner. An aide said the debt is from a $100,000 loan that Wagner, a trash company owner, made to her personally during her successful 2014 race. She in turned loaned the money to her campaign. Wagner said she still owes the full balance plus interest but he anticipates some of it will be paid back in the near future.

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GOVERNOR

Wolf, who restricted gifts within the executive branch soon after taking office in 2015, reported accepting no gifts, transportation, lodging or hospitality last year.

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BILLBOARD

State Rep. Jack Rader, R-Monroe, said a beverage company approached him after an election and offered to put his face on a billboard that welcomed people to the Pocono Mountains. He valued the billboard, which remained up for a couple months, at $600.

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CONSTITUENT EVENTS

About a third of the total, or some $50,000, went for various constituent events, which are programs lawmakers run as senior expos, children’s events, community days and the like. In some cases, those costs amounted to about $10,000 for individual lawmakers, while others were in the hundreds of dollars. At least 11 lawmakers reported taking such donations.

Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler, said his “community night” was attended by about 2,500 people. It was supported with about $9,000 in donations from energy companies, retailers, tech firms and others. Ellis called it “a showcase of all the county has to offer for families and senior citizens.”

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SUPREME COURT

Four of the seven Supreme Court justices disclosed some sort of travel, including three who attended the state bar association’s annual meeting in the Caribbean at the swank Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort and Spa in the Netherlands Antilles. Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, a Republican, put his cost for that trip at about $2,800.

Justice Debra Todd, a Democrat, attended the meeting in St. Maarten and also accepted free trips to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and to Nemacolin, Seven Springs and Split Rock, all Pennsylvania resorts. Todd says she tries to accept as many speaking and teaching engagements as she can. She also took a pair of tickets worth $1,000 to the Pennsylvania Society dinner in New York, compliments of a law firm where her friend works as a partner. She said the firm does not have cases before the high court. Her travel and other gifts amounted to $6,700 last year.

Justice David Wecht, a Democrat, reported $650 in tickets from his brother-in-law, a lawyer in marketing, and from a non-lawyer friend, to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates and Penguins play.

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ODDS AND ENDS

Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Philadelphia, who is awaiting trial on public corruption charges that include an allegation of accepting bribes from an informant, disclosed trips to Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida and Boston. She also named two law firms as her creditors.

Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, put the value of free parking from a bank near his district office at $900.

Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, discovered he had to return $313 worth of wedding gifts he had been given from a registered lobbyist, so he reported the refund.


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