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Pennsylvanianeeds ‘clean government’ law

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Is it ethically wrong and morally corrupt for public officials or candidates to accept money and favors from corporations they must regulate because those corporations have the potential to harm the public health, safety and welfare in addition to destroying the environment and home values?

Politicians say they are not influenced, but, of course, they are influenced or the money and favors would not be provided. Should accepting money and favors from such corporations be illegal? Teddy Roosevelt thought so and said, “Contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.”

More recently, another Republican — John McCain — spoke before Congress in favor of the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act, which he sponsored along with Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold. He said, “Questions of honor are raised as much by appearances as by reality in politics. And because they incite public distrust, they need to be addressed no less directly than we would address evidence of expressly illegal corruption.” 

He later said, “The people’s suspicions are not always mistaken. Money does buy access … and access increases influence that often results in benefiting the few at the expense of the many.”

Pennsylvania’s recently passed Act 13 appears to be a clear demonstration of the corrupting influence of corporate money. The gas industry loves it.

Act 13 enacted belated impact fees on gas drilling, but then took away the ability of citizens to determine what happens in their own backyards. This law provides a blueprint for the exploitation and environmental destruction of Pennsylvania by the gas industry. Big Oil and Gas want to buy Pennsylvania. 

In addition to spending millions on campaign contributions and “soft” money to influence politicians, Big Oil and Gas are spending millions on television “issue advocacy ads” telling people that drilling deep holes in the earth, pumping in toxic rock-dissolving chemicals and detonating explosives underground is good and safe.

Following the infamous 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision of 2010 that viewed corporations as people and thus allowed corporate political contributions, President Obama, in a State of the Union address, said, “The Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates of special interests … I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests …This situation is a major victory for Big Oil …” 

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said of his own court, “The court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation … Our lawmakers have a duty to take measures to guard against the deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”

Franklin Kury is the author of an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article I, Section 27) that says, “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment.Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations to come. As Trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

He points out that, after a century of exploitation that inflicted great damage on air, streams and land, the people of Pennsylvania awakened to what was happening and “were like a sleeping giant suddenly aroused in anger.”

It’s time, once again, for the sleeping giant to awaken. Now, we need legislation that corrects the wrongs and omissions of Act 13 and removes any taint or stench of corruption. We deserve officials who understand and are willing to tell Big Oil and Gas — and anyone else who needs to be told — that Pennsylvania is not for sale.

We need:

  • A “clean government” law that prohibits candidates and public officials from accepting campaign contributions, money or favors from regulated industries. Applied to all, the political playing field would be leveled as regards regulated industries. This law would recognize the lawful right of regulated corporations to contribute money and favors and would recognize the duty and the responsibility of public officials and candidates to refuse the offer.
  • A revised Municipal Planning Code that restores and strengthens local zoning powers.
  • A revised Oil and Gas Law that requires drilling in conformance with a state plan; environmental impact statements for each well site; bonding requirements that adequately protect the public health and provide for full-value public and private property restoration in the event of water source contamination, or earthquake, from the start of drilling into the future by at least five decades; fines starting at $1 million for willful noncompliance of state and federal laws, including the Clean Streams Law; and prohibitions against the  use of chemicals and compounds known to be dangerous to human and other animals. Gas should be allocated first for the home-heating needs of Pennsylvania citizens and supplied at the cost of intrastate production and delivery.
  • A severance tax that completes the responsibility of the gas industry to adequately compensate the citizens of Pennsylvania for the extraction of a nonrenewable natural resource in which all citizens have an interest. The revenue should be earmarked for education with a corresponding reduction in property taxes. All citizens, not just the few, deserve a direct benefit.

• 

Edward Smith is the chairman and founder of the Pennsylvania Homeowners Association Inc.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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