Last updated: August 23. 2013 9:49PM - 1264 Views

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The ethical clouds at the upper reaches of Pennsylvania government are so thick that top officials are having trouble seeing straight.

Gov. Corbett’s office blamed confusion about a state form for his failure to report his purchase of a $265,000 condo on Hilton Head, S.C. Corbett signed the deed in December but failed to note the acquisition in his annual financial disclosure in May, according to StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public radio reporting project. The same was true of a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, who failed to report a $1 million home purchase in Stowe, Vt.

Corbett previously disappointed ethics enthusiasts with his belated disclosure of a free vacation on a gas-industry contractor’s boat in Newport, R.I. He also allowed his supporters to stage a retreat at which big campaign contributors had unprecedented access to top state officials.

Then there’s the double-dipper who oversees oil and natural-gas development for the state Game Commission while maintaining a side job advising landowners on energy leases, as The Inquirer’s Andrew Maykuth reported. William A. Capouillez, whose independent agency does not answer to the Corbett administration, argues that there’s nothing untoward about the arrangement. But leasing agents and drilling companies have been complaining about it for years, and rightly so.

And don’t forget state lawmakers, who can still put in for per diem payments of up to $185 just for showing up in Harrisburg, without submitting receipts. This is in addition to a base salary of $83,800.

Even the state’s Supreme Court isn’t free of the influence of unlimited campaign contributions and the temptations of nepotism.

No wonder the Center for Public Integrity’s sweeping State Integrity Investigation gave Pennsylvania a C-minus last year on matters ranging from judicial accountability to campaign finance. The state Senate took a tiny step forward this year by passing a bill requiring candidates to post campaign-finance information online. But lawmakers have yet to address the size of contributions. Does anyone think elected officials can ignore contributors who put up six-figure donations?

Corbett didn’t build this ethical fog machine, but he’s not doing much to burn through the haze either. And as the state’s chief executive, he could do a lot. He could limit outside employment for state workers and challenge the legislature to do the same. He could toughen ethics rules and devote resources to enforcing them. He could ask the Legislature to limit campaign contributions from those doing business with the government.

Gov. Dick Thornburgh began the 1984 Governor’s Code of Conduct with words that ring true today: “There continues to be a need to insure that the citizens of our commonwealth have complete confidence in those individuals appointed and employed to serve the commonwealth.”

Gov. Corbett should find that leaves no room for confusion.

Philadelphia Inquirer

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