"What's black and white and read all over?"

Sunday, May 07, 2006
Posted 10:12 PM by

No gifts? Not so fast Eddie

Who bought the ticket for Gov. Ed Rendell to go to the Sixers-Celtics game last year, not to mention the Patriots jersey, and why didn't he declare it as a gift on his annual statement of financial interest?There were no real surprises in Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's annual statement of financial interest this year - assuming, of course, you believe his ludicrous claim that he accepted no gifts valued at more than $250 last year.

Rendell also reported only one trip paid for by an outside group. Its $830 bill was covered by the Democratic Governors Association, for which Rendell serves as finance chairman. His state form does not specify the trip's date or where he went.

But the governor was reportedly in Las Vegas on April 26, 2005 soliciting donations from gambling executives to the association. The association has since contributed $300,000 to Rendell's reelection campaign.

The move is slimey, to be sure, but there's no law against it. The 2004 state law legalizing slot machines prohibits direct campaign contributions by companies that want to operate a slots parlor or supply machines, not contributions passed indirectly through outside groups. Lobbying by gambling interests is also legal.

It's the little things Fast Eddie should now be most worried about.

I find it hard to believe that nobody - from a local 4-H club to the hordes of lobbyists roaming the halls in Harrisburg - gave even a single pricey present to the incumbent governor, former Democratic National Committee chairman, two-term Philly mayor and district attorney.

That would include his courtside ticket to the Sixers-Celtics game in Boston on April 3, 2005, where Rendell paid off his highly publicized Super Bowl bet with Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by singing the national anthem.

I seem to remember a hastily issued press release saying Rendell paid for the trip himself. But what about the ticket, or the tickets to other sporting events Rendell attends, aside from Eagles home games for whom he owns season tickets?

The form each state employee, candidate and elected and appointed official in Pennsylvania is required to fill out annually asks that person to "provide the name and address of the source and the circumstances and value of any gift(s) received valued at $250 or more."

That does not include campaign contributions or gifts from "friends or family," but does require gifts from lobbyists to be listed.

By signing the form, each public servant is saying the information is true and correct under Pennsylvania's Unsworn falsification to authorities law and the state Ethics law. Violations of either are misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.

If that's a game-worn jersey he wore in the photograph above, it would almost certainly have to be declared. Or maybe Romney and Rendell are "friends" by virtue of holding the same job in different states.

So did Rendell break the law?

It's tough to say. First you would have to prove the governor accepted a gift worth more than $250 - say a courtside or front row ticket - from somebody who isn't a friend. Then you would have to file a complaint form with the state Ethics Commission, who would investigate the allegation even though the commission actually reports to the governor.

I will say this, Rendell was so concerned that lobbyists were wineing and dining the executive branch on his watch, that he issued an executive order in March requiring lobbyists to register their activity.

However, his order carried no penalties for violations, nor did it require the lobbyists to list how much was given to individual public servants - just the total cost for gifts, entertainment, meals, transportation, lodging and receptions.

Also, lobbyists only had to register if they spent more than $2,500 per quarter in the previous two years.

Why doesn't the law require the officials being lobbied to report the gift?

A press release from Rendell says the Governor's Code of Conduct already requires many state officials and employees of the Executive Branch to file statements of financial interest, where they have to list their personal economic interests, business interests and gifts in excess of $100.

However, most of those forms stay within the department employing the person and are not posted online for the public to read.

Nevertheless, Rendell used the opportunity to bash the Republican leadership of the state House of Representatives for failing to pass a lobbyist disclosure law covering both it and the executive branch. "We've waited so long and nothing happened," he said.

House Speaker John Perzel and his crack unnamed "research staff" are working on a bill now behind closed doors.

Rendell isn't exactly hurting for cash, according to stories about the income tax return he released to reporters last month. In addition to his $145,000 gubernatorial salary, he moonlighted as both a paid lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania for $20,000 and made $15,000 as an Eagles commentator for Comcast SportsNet.

Pennsylvania First Lady Midge Rendell also draws a $157,734 salary as a U.S. Circuit Court judge, the Associated Press reports. Together, the Rendells' income hit $618,560 last year when their profit from selling shares of stock are added in.

The Rendells are clearly not as rich as New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine or even Ed's likely Republican opponent this fall, Lynn Swann.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann reportedly earned more than $1 million last year, but didn't start paying state taxes on his Internet mechandise sales until April after a reporter questioned the Department of Revenue about it.Swann released his income tax return to reporters this week and it shows his income last year to be over $1 million, including the $558,964 he earned as an ABC sportscaster, public speaker, and by sales of merchandise signed by the football Hall of Famer, the Associated Press and Inquirer reported.

The rest of his money came from investments and his position as a board director for food giant HJ Heinz Co., Hershey Entertainment and three other companies.

Swann's statement of financial interests offered few more details, other than he too has not received any gifts or had any travel paid for by another person.

His merchandising company, Swann Inc., started paying 6 percent state sales tax last month on its Web site sales last month after Allentown Morning Call reporter John Micek questioned the state Department of Revenue whether he was paying it.


Below are the latest statements of financial interests filed with the State Ethics Commission by Gov. Ed Rendell and Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann.

In order to read them, you must have Adobe's pdf reader installed in your browser. To down a free copy, click here or on the icon below:

Gov. Ed Rendell

Lynn Swann
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