As you read this, keep in mind that I am strictly an amateur at tracking legislation and the like. In my continuing series on what I would like to see changed before I would be in favor of a substantial legislative pay raise, here is the third condition from my original July post.
3) A more transparent legislative process. Bills seem to pop up out of nowhere and there doesn’t seem to any time for discussion or questions on some of them. A full-time, well-paid legislature should be able to arrange things better.
Serendipitously enough, it goes along well with some of the items listed in today’s Inquirer editorial on needed Harrisburg reforms. Two of their list are lobbying disclosure, legislative reform and open government.
A clear cut example is the recently repealed legislative pay raise, passed in the middle of the night with no public notice beforehand. Even in normal legislation things happen and, reading through the list of bills passed, one wonders how it came to be. To provide an example of what I (and maybe the Inky also) mean, let’s take a look at one bill in particular. It passed last May and I noted it as it showed up in the weekly legislative update.
SB 198 An Act prohibiting a deceptive business practice in the floral industry; and providing for a private cause of action.
Now, what does this mean? I looked at the text of the bill and in my layman’s translation it makes it illegal for out-of-state (or even out of area) florists to put a local phone number in phone books if that number automatically transfers you to a florist out of town. In other words, people were calling what they thought were local florists when they were actually calling a florist out of the area. I can understand why people might feel deceived and why local florists would be angry.
My cynical side automatically assumed that some big florist lobby tucked several large bills into a state senator’s pocket and thus the bill was born, suspecting that if I checked campaign finance reports I would see some big donations in advance to the bill’s sponsors from monied florists. So I looked at the bill’s sponsors.
GREENLEAF, WONDERLING, GORDNER, TARTAGLIONE, THOMPSON, MADIGAN, RAFFERTY, LOGAN, KITCHEN, VANCE, STACK AND WAUGH
Now this was distressing. I don’t know much about most of these people other than what might have shown up in the paper (for Sen. Stack this is not so good). I’ve met someone who worked with Sen. Wonderling before he was elected and said good things about him. Sen. Greenleaf I have heard wonderful things about. (Note: I’m not in either of their senatorial districts.) I did not want to find out anything untoward about Sen. Greenleaf but I kept poking around anyway.
All of the senate sponsors are on one or more of these committees: consumer protection and professional licensure, labor and industry, agriculture & rural affairs, and law and justice. They may overlap in other places as well but these would seem to be the committees most concerned, especially the first. Greenleaf, Wonderling and Gordner were on that one. So that would, at least on the surface, explain why these particular senators sponsored that bill.
Let’s look a little deeper. Here is Sen. Greenleaf’s newsletter article on the bill. Greenhouse Product News also provided some information. Once when it passed the senate, congratulating Senators Greenleaf and Brightbill, and another when it was discussed in the house. The PA Floral Industry Association also wrote about it. It included this paragraph:
Members of the association, Katy Miller of Dillon Floral Corporation; Charles Kremp of Kremp Florist; Greg Royer of Royer's Flowers and Gifts; Paul Zieger of Zieger and Sons, Inc. and Rick Davis of Teleflora, Inc., along with PFIA Executive Director, Denise Calabrese, and Executive Assistant to Senator Stewart Greenleaf, Eric Pauley, testified in front of Consumer Affairs Chairman, Representative Robert Flick (R-Chester), and the House Consumer Affairs Committee.
Well, now we’re getting somewhere. I believe at least one of Mr. Kremp’s shops is in Sen. Greenleaf’s distrist and Mr. Kremp is the past president of the Society of American Florists and provided some of the arrangements for Pres. Bush’s second inaugural. Surely he is a big political donor. While I’ve never purchased any flowers from Kremps I have seen some and they have been uniformly lovely. I checked the PA Dept. of State’s campaign finance report database. (Rep. Vitali used to provide this information in database form as well but took it down when the state updated theirs. I liked his much better. It was much much easier to use.) Mr. Kremp did not make any political donations in 2004 nor are any listed in 2005 (although I didn’t see any reports for this year yet.) In 2003 he made a $100 donation to a PAC not to an individual candidate. I checked one or two of the other names that testified before the state house but did not see anything for them either. I also looked through Sen. Greenleaf’s campaign finance reports and did not see anything that looked suspicious. Unfortunately Pennsylvania does not require lobbyists to report how much they and on whom, so there’s no way of finding that information.
At the national level, the Society of American Florists does have a PAC but in the information provided by www.campaignmoney.com, the group did not donate to any Pennsylvania federal candidates, although Mr. Kremp did donate to the pac.
Laying all the cards I have accumulated on the table I come up with this scenario (keep in mind this is my interpretation and may have no basis in fact whatsoever):
Mr. Kremp went to his state senator with a business-related concern. This would indicate that Mr. Kremp is a concerned citizen who understands the political process and finds his state senator approachable. Sen. Greenleaf sat down with a constituent, thought his concern had merit and would be a general public good, and proceeded to shepherd a bill through the state senate. This is how democracy is supposed to work.
Locating all the information presented in this post (and additional background information) took the entire length of a Disney movie tape (one of the standard measures of time in my house). Writing it up took an equal amount of time. Voters simply don’t have the time to run this kind of research on each and every bill that we find interesting, let alone all of them. And no one does this kind of research and makes it available to the public free of charge. We would like to be able to trust our elected officials and not feel the need to look into nooks and crannies. However, given the shenanigans going on with the slot machine deals, assorted land grabs, and other malfeasance that become public, we are often understandably skeptical.
It would be great if the legislature would make it easier for us to believe they are honest and working hard on our behalf. It would be great of the leadership of the house and senate made honesty and integrity a priority. In any event, I am pleased to keep the white hat on Sen. Greenleaf and to be able to order my mother’s birthday flowers through Kremp Florist this year with a clear conscience.