HARRISBURG — More than half of Pennsylvania lawmakers pull down income on top of their state paychecks, creating potential conflicts for some and casting doubt on the notion the state has a “full-time” legislature.
A two-month analysis by The Caucus also found that one in five legislators — 50 in all — are attorneys and are not required to disclose the names of their clients, raising concern among good-government activists.
“What’s wrong with this picture is lawmakers can be voting on things that directly affect their clients,” said citizen activist Gene Stilp of Dauphin County. “They make the rules and protect themselves this way. There could be a conflict. We just don’t know.”
In all, 130 of the 253 House and Senate members reported earning income from sources other than the Legislature. They hold interests in the insurance, real estate, catering, construction, legal and trucking industries, according to 2016 statements of financial interest filed with the state Ethics Commission.
Many lawmakers insist they serve in a full-time legislature and national rankings typically portray the Pennsylvania General Assembly as such. That so many lawmakers also moonlight undermines that notion, though.
“If they are saying it’s a full-time legislature, it’s got to be a full-time position,” said Democratic Rep. Anthony DeLuca of Allegheny County, who lists no outside income.
“They take the job. They know the salary. They know it is good benefits.”
Pennsylvania taxpayers will spend more than $367.7 million running the Legislature this year.
State lawmakers here are paid the second-highest salary in the nation at $86,478.
The schedule isn’t too bad, either.
As of last week, the House had been in session 45 days this year; the Senate had been in session 48 days.
In 2016, the House met 56 times, while the Senate was in session 57 days.
DeLuca has introduced bills over three sessions that would limit the amount of outside income for lawmakers to 35 percent of their state salary and require disclosure of income levels of each position. The bills have not advanced from the House State Government Committee.
“A lot of members don’t want the bills,” DeLuca said. “Let’s be truthful.”
Democratic Rep. Thomas Caltagirone of Reading doesn’t have any outside employment beyond the Legislature. “It would be a conflict. I wouldn’t want to do that,” he said. “What’s in the public interest? On the appearance itself, it doesn’t look good. I don’t see how they can sleep at night. It’s all about the money.”
The Pennsylvania Constitution is clear about how lawmakers should handle any potential conflicts of interest. It states: “A member who has a personal or private interest in any measure or bill proposed or pending before the House shall disclose the fact to the House and shall not vote thereon.”
It is clear, though, that abstentions from voting are rare.
Take the case of Republican Sen. Chuck McIlhinney of Bucks County, whose mother was up for confirmation to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review in the Senate in 2013.
McIlhinney informed Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who was presiding over the Senate at the time, of the conflict. Cawley told the senator there was no conflict and that “you must vote on this nomination.”
“The chair does not find that ... the vote you are about to cast would be particularly personal to you or privately affect you alone or that you would derive a direct pecuniary interest from such a vote,” Cawley said.
Also take the case of Republican Sen. Robert Tomlinson of Bucks County, who is the owner of Tomlinson Funeral Home in Bensalem. He sought a ruling from the chair on legislation dealing with funeral homes in 2015.
Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, who was presiding over the Senate, responded: “The chair finds there is nothing particularly personal to you in this bill. You are a member of a class of individuals in the funeral industry who may or may not be affected by passage of this legislation.”
Ties to legislation
Republican Rep. W. Gregory Rothman of Cumberland County is the president and CEO of Rothman Schubert and Reed Realtors. He is also the prime sponsor of legislation that would change how his industry operates, by amending the Real Estate Licensing Law.
Rothman said the real estate industry wants to set higher standards for sales professionals, including mandating they hold at least a high school diploma. Rothman said his bills are about protecting consumers through more education.
"This is the most important financial decision someone makes in a lifetime," Rothman said of buying a home. "We want to make sure we do everything we can" to educate sales people interacting with the public.
Republican Rep. Mark Mustio of suburban Pittsburgh is vice president of HHM Benefits and president of Airport Insurance Associates Inc., a company that issues all types of insurance. As a legislator, Mustio has been deeply involved in insurance debates over the popular ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft.
The abundance of conflicts “is like a septic tank,” said former Rep. John Kennedy of Camp Hill, who heads the group Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which is pursuing legislative reform.
“Some — not all — make money (from their legislative influence.) They deal with bills for their own industry. If you look at the history of the General Assembly, there have been legislators who used their positions to advance their companies. Lawyers for decades dominated the Legislature and leadership,” he said.
Republican Sen. John DiSanto of Dauphin County was once involved in the real estate industry but sold his stake in a firm. He earns income from other industries now and says there is no conflict between being a legislator and holding positions in private industry.
He said his 35-year real-estate career has been valuable in the caucus.
"I am a full-time senator," he said. "Citizen-legislators having different experiences makes us stronger."
He said he supports moving toward a part-time Legislature. Bills designed to do so historically have been shelved without debate.
Ethics Commission regulations allow the 50 lawyers working as legislators to withhold disclosure of individual sources of income if it would divulge legally protected confidential information, said Robert Caruso, the commission’s executive director.
Twenty-six other states, however, require legislators to disclose information about income-producing clients, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In New Mexico, where legislators must disclose financial information, “law practices, consulting operations and similar businesses must describe the major area of specialization or income sources.”
John Leubsdorf, a professor at Rutgers Law School, has written extensively about legal ethics. Historically, Leubsdorf said, many legislatures were part-time and the pay was so low that lawmakers needed another source of income. Legislators “practicing law is a long-time thing,” he said.
“There can be conflict of interest problems when a legislator is also a lawyer,” he said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Stewart Greenleaf’s 2016 statement of financial interest lists income from three law firms: Elliott Greenleaf of Blue Bell; Stewart J. Greenleaf Esq. of Huntingdon Valley; and Dischell, Bartle and Dooley of Lansdale.
The Elliott Greenleaf law firm identifies Greenleaf as “senior counsel.”
Greenleaf last year presided over a hearing on legislation expanding statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse. A lawyer at Elliott Greenleaf at the time represented the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which opposed the bill.
There were no votes at that hearing, but Greenleaf had been involved in negotiations. Under mounting criticism, Greenleaf later issued a statement saying he would no longer handle any aspect of the bill because “perception and appearance in ethical matters are important.”
Reporters Mike Wereschagin and Sara Mearhoff contributed to this report.