Abandoned Sting Could Produce Reform in Harrisburg

Meanwhile, media pushes back against Kathleen Kane's defamation threats.

After more than a week, Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s abandoned sting operation against Philly Democrats is still the talk of Harrisburg. (And beyond: Republican-friendly blogs at National Review and Power Line also seem to be having a field day with it.) There’s growing talk, in fact, of reform — maybe legislators shouldn’t be allowed to take big cash gifts, huh?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

Sens. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, and Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, announced plans for one bill to ban legislators from accepting cash gifts, except those from family members, while Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, announced plans for another

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported March 16 that Attorney General Kathleen Kane had shut down a yearslong undercover sting without prosecution despite tape showing four Democratic state representatives accepting money.

“I obviously do not know the truth of any of those allegations, however in reading the press accounts of the investigation and the allegations that emerged, I was troubled to learn that there was no legal prohibition against accepting such gifts if they had been offered,” Mr. Leach said in a statement announcing his proposal.

The Patriot-News elaborates:

As it currently stands, there is a law banning cash campaign contributions of more than $100, but no outright ban or cap on accepting cash gifts.

There are some restrictions, though. Public officials must report gifts of $250 or more on their statements of financial interest filed annually. There is also the state’s conflict of interest law that bars public officials from accepting gifts for personal enrichment. And it is illegal for them to accept a bribe in return for a promised action.

Spokespeople for the Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses say the gift ban legislation is expected to draw broad support from their members.

In the meantime, Kane’s decision to hire a lawyer to pursue defamation claims in the aftermath of the Inky story that started this scandal is getting pushback from Pennsylvania media.

The Patriot-News editorializes today: “By lawyering up and trying to intimidate critics, Kane looks like a thin-skinned scaredy-pants who isn’t capable of defending her own actions as attorney general.”

At Newsworks, Dave Davies adds: “If Kathleen Kane is the rising political star she’s made out to be, she should trust in her ability to navigate this mess on her own. If she’s acted in good faith and made the right calls on the investigation, she should be able to get that across to the public.”