Gov. Tom Corbett (R-PA) campaigned for his office pledging to prohibit gifts to government officials from those seeking state contracts. But his own financial disclosures show he accepted thousands of dollars worth of gifts from friends who could benefit from his position.
Last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) apologized for bringing embarrassment to Virginia as a result of tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts and loans he and his family took from a tobacco executive. Like McDonnell and others, Corbett received gifts from several benefactors in recent years:
NHL Winter Classic hockey tickets. Robert “Bob” Kennedy is the vice president of government affairs at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and lobbies the government on behalf of his employer. He provided Corbett with two tickets to the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic and the pre-game brunch ($472). Ten months later, Gov. Corbett reportedly backed the UPMC hospital chain in a major dispute with a top regional insurance company. Corbett also appointed Kennedy to the public safety committee for his 2011 transition team.
NFL playoff tickets. John “Jack” Barbour is CEO at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, one of Pennsylvania’s largest lobbying and legal firms. He twice gave Corbett tickets to see the Pittsburgh Steelers in their National Football League playoff games ($140 and $185). The firm, which receives millions in state contracts, also represents UPMC, as well as energy companies EQT and the Williams Companies, and numerous medical and pharmaceutical outfits. Barbour has long served as outside counsel to the Steelers and its owners. Corbett appointed Barbour as a co-chair of his 2011 transition team and to his committee on privatization. When asked whether this contribution violated the state’s Code of Conduct, a Corbett spokesman noted that because Barbour and Corbett are friends, the gift was not prohibited.
Private jet travel to Pittsburgh. Frank Schoeneman is CEO of Empire Education Group, a for-profit beauty-school chain. He provided private jet travel for Gov. Corbett for an event in Pittsburgh ($1406.80). Ten months later, Corbett signed a bill making it easier for cosmetology students who attend schools like Empire’s to obtain state licensure.
Rhode Island yachting vacation. John D. Moran Jr. is president and CEO of Moran Industries, a warehousing and transportation company with an oil and gas subsidiary. He provided for Gov. Corbett with private jet travel to a Rhode Island and a yachting vacation ($1,423) and private jet travel to events in Pittsburgh and Williamsport, PA ($902). He reportedly accepted this travel as state regulators were investigating whether his company was shipping waste without a necessary permit. Moran traveled with Corbett on a six-day European trade mission touting the benefits of fracking and a 10-day trade mission to South America. Corbett also appointed Moran to his committee on privatization. Corbett’s initial filings omitted the Rhode Island yachting trip, a mistake his press secretary called a clerical error.
On his 2010 campaign website, Corbett promised to “bring honesty, accountability and transparency to Harrisburg,” and “restore public trust in state government.”
A Corbett spokeswoman told the Philadelphia Daily News in March, “Governor Corbett has been clear that he makes all decisions based on what is in the best interests of Pennsylvanians. He has always fully complied with both the letter and the spirit of our state’s financial-reporting laws. His campaign-finance report and his state ethics reports are both public documents, placed on a state website for all to see. The governor’s actions have always been, and will continue to be, transparent and free of any conflict of interest.”
But the non-partisan watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ranked Corbett among the “Worst Governors in America,” claiming he “turned Pennsylvania’s state government into a favor mill for campaign supporters.”
And in March, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party filed an ethics complaint against Corbett over the gifts. Spokesmen for the Ethics Commission and the party told ThinkProgress that no further information about the complaint has thus far been made public.