Gov. Corbett says he followed law but is looking into code and gifts
GETTYSBURG (March 8) – Capital Watch and Capitolwire have been following allegations that Gov. Corbett accepted over $11,000 in gifts and was influenced as a result, first reported in a Philadelphia Daily News story.
At a March 8 press conference we asked the Governor about accepting gifts some say are barred by the governor’s Code of Conduct. Gov. Tom Corbett replied: “We followed the law. The Code of Conduct is not the law.”
When pressed further if that meant he didn’t need to follow the Code, Corbett said no.
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying we’re looking at everything once again,” he said, without expanding on what another look would entail.
But Corbett said the issue is simple: “The criticism is it’s influencing me – it is not influencing me.”
“We reported everything we’re supposed to report,” Corbett told reporters at the Gettysburg-Adams Chamber of Commerce press conference, days after a Philadelphia Daily News story highlighted over $11,000 in gifts the governor received from some with ties to business before the commonwealth.
But Corbett’s further comments add to questions about how the Code of Conduct, instituted by Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh in 1980, applies to the governor himself, as well as officials and employees in the executive branch.
The Code of Conduct is explained to new cabinet members when they are installed into office.
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley indicated after the press conference that the Code’s eight exemptions include one that allows gifts from friends and would mean the code did not apply to Pittsburgh Steelers football tickets the governor received from longtime friend Jack Barbour.
Barbour heads the lobbying law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, which held millions in state contracts. Harley said Barbour is a lifelong friend of Corbett, and the gift of football tickets wasn’t an attempt to gain state business.
“You see there are many exceptions to [the Code of Conduct],” Harley said after the press conference, noting one that exempts gifts from friends.
That exemption reads:
"The solicitation or acceptance of something of monetary value from a friend, parent, spouse, child or other close relative when the circumstance make it clear that the motivation for the action is a personal or family relationship."
Another gift - $1,407 reported for a plane ride paid by Frank Shoeneman, executive of the beauty school chain Empire Education Group - was for a civic fund-raiser in Pittsburgh.
The Daily News story ties that trip to Corbett’s signing of a bill into law nearly a year after that would aid students who attend beauty schools in getting licensed by the state.
Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York, who was the prime sponsor of the bill, was on hand at press conference at the Chamber of Commerce, and said he was approached about drafting the bill from a constituent and never met Shoeneman.
“There was no connection there whatsoever,” Gillespie said.
“I signed the bill 11 months after … and my understanding is it passed overwhelmingly in the House and overwhelmingly in the Senate, so it clearly had no impact on my decisions. I do not let that happen,” Corbett said, adding that taking the flight as a gift saved the state the $1,407 ticket cost.