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There is a bit of a controversy brewing over the last few days here in the wonderful capitol of Pennsylvania.  And, while that is hardly surprising since it seems like 90% of what comes out of Harrisburg is questionable on some level, this one raises some interesting questions.

It seems that Pennsylvania State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a Republican representing Jefferson County, stepped in it a bit by accepting a trip to the Super Bowl from a gas drilling company, Consol Energy. For those unaware, there is a debate going on in the Pennsylvania state senate about the drilling rules for the gas-rich Marcellus Shale in the state.  Thus, this “gift” looks like a serious attempt to influence a vote.

Now, of course Scarnati denied that this was in any way an influence.  He was going to vote the way he felt was in the best interests of his constituents regardless of the fact that this company sent him on an all expenses paid trip to one of the biggest ticket sporting events there is.  And, his chief of staff was thoroughly insulted by the questioning of Scarnati’s ethics and the appropriateness of accepting the gift.

After all, nothing illegeal was done.

The problem here isn’t really the legality of the gift.  Yes, technically it was legal for the trip to be accepted under existing state law.  Yes, he was within his legal rights to accept the trip and have a good ol’ time down in Dallas.  But, as the old saying goes, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Even if you give Scarnati the benefit of the doubt, his integrity on any vote or debate regarding the Marcellus Shale issue is in question.  He has given, at the very least, the appearance of possible impropriety.  How can I trust that he will not, on some level, allow the trip to influence his vote.  I know that when someone does something nice for me I tend to be more likely to help them out if I’m given the chance.

Oh, wait, that’s right, he’s paying the company back.  A result, I’m sure, of the public outcry over the issue.

Um, a bit too little too late.  He can’t win now.  If he votes in favor of the company people will question whether of not the trip influenced him.  If he votes against them we will wonder if he is compensating for the trip and trying to clear his image.  Either way, he loses.

This is the real problem with politics, and in many ways the world in general.  Money.

People will mouth the words that “the best things in life are free” or “money can’t buy the best things in life,” but the truth of the matter is that money is a leading force in many negative behaviors.  Money buys material comfort.  Money opens doors and grants influence.  Money is, in short, power.  And power is a very tantalizing thing.

As long as we have lobbyists and laws that say that elected officials can accept gifts up to a certain amount we will have money corrupting the system.  As long as we let political fund-raising proceed in a nearly unchecked manner, with laws and regulations with so many loopholes and go-arounds that they might as well be Swiss cheese, we will have money corrupting the system.

I don’t know what the solution is, I’ve never claimed to be that smart.  But I do know that having the rules regarding what a politician can and can’t accept drawn up b y the very politicians who will have to then abide by those rules seems a bit shady to me.  But, the sad truth is that no matter what we do to close the holes there will always be someone clever who finds a way around.

The quest for power, it seems, is human nature.  A sad testimonial on our species if you ask me.

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