DO's and Don'ts:
- DO CONVINCE YOUR LEGISLATOR TO DO ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING THEY CAN DO TO ADVANCE OUR BILLS.
- DO be in their office at least 10 minutes before the meeting. This demonstrates passion and a respect for their time.
- DO be courteous and respectful with everyone in the office.
- DO identify clearly the subjects that you want to talk about. Be as familiar as possible with the bills.
- DO get personal about why these bills are important to you. Tell your legislator how they affect you.
- DO restrict yourself to only talking about our bills and our group. DO not talk about other bills or other groups.
- DO remember that your goal is to make a friend and to convince them to support our bills.
- DO be a source of hope and courage for your legislator.
- DO let them know that you will follow up with them. If they need time to deliberate, say something like, ‘Can I call your office in a week to see if you have any questions about our bill(s)?’ OR ‘How long will it take you to review the bill(s)?’ Be sure to follow up.
- DO NOT negotiate the specific details of the bills with the legislator.
- DO NOT let your tone marginalize you and do not use this time to blow off steam.
- DO NOT get personal about specific politicians or specific political parties. DO NOT SUCCUMB TO POLITICAL TRIBALISM. BE NON-PARTISAN.
Common Rebuttal from Representatives
"This is the way it’s always been,”
These problems have been getting worse. (Gifts are getting larger and more frequent, or, Gerrymandering is using meta data to pinpoint political leanings and draw precise maps). We are more polarized than ever before and the public’s trust in government is much lower than it’s been in a very long time. We are here to tell you that these problems are real and worsening, and fixing them would go a long way toward building trust between government and citizen.
"It’s politically impossible"
Most things are politically impossible until they are done. Laws are never stuck or set in stone, but change over time. We are confident that if enough people want these bills (and they do), then we can turn these bills into law. Do not let political impossibility become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"It’s the other party’s fault,” or consistently blaming the other party.
Stay positive and on the moral and non-partisan high-ground. This is the partisanship that we need to rise above. We cannot be governed by two groups constantly at war with each other. We need to build trust, and working together on a non-partisan basis will help us all build trust and repair our relationships.
"We just don’t have the time to deal with this,” or, “I’m really focused on the budget right now and don’t have time…"
I understand that you are very busy and you and your colleagues have many decisions to make this session. Our bills deal with how government governs, with the decision making process itself. Our bills are of primary importance because these issues affect every decision made, and until they are fixed, all other decisions made in this building (State Capitol) will be negatively affected by our lack of democracy and public trust will continue to suffer.
"I don’t like your nonviolent civil disobedience. Why can’t you just do things the right way?"
We also don’t like having to use nonviolent civil disobedience (NVCD) and would prefer to just have rational conversations to get to where we need to be. Nobody likes going to jail. State Government Committee Chairman Metcalfe refused to meet with us for several months, and he is the gatekeeper for our bills. We only protested after meeting with more than 240 of the 253 Legislators in PA, and after trying to meet with him for months. Non-violent civil disobedience is designed to raise an issue that those in power are not willing to face. Now, Rep. Metcalfe is facing the issue.
"Money-in-Politics isn’t an issue. People like their representatives. I know I’m popular in my district."
Are you familiar with Gilens and Page’s Princeton study? Researchers examined several thousand bills in US Congress over the past 40 or so years, and analyzed the likelihood of passage based on different bases of support, such as special interest groups, lobbying groups, or the general population. They found that the general population had virtually no impact on legislation. Public opinion has no effect on public policy. The people’s voices are drowned out by special interests. This is much worse at the federal level, but we still experience this in Pennsylvania to a lesser degree. I chose to volunteer with this group because I want to make PA’s government work better for the people and improve people’s lives. We’re actually trying to help make your role more effective at improving people’s lives and serving the people of PA.
If legislators expresses concern over a specific provision or bit of language in the bill.
Let me contact our legislative team and I’ll get back to you. (Record this in a Legislative Reporting Form).
common gerrymandering rebuttal
"Is this even a problem?"
Pennsylvania has some of the worst gerrymandered districts of any state across the country. When districts are not competitive, legislators on both sides move farther away from each other, creating one-party districts resulting in hyper-partisanship.
"Is this just computer software?"
This bill is not a algorithm that draws perfect squares across the state. It is a human process that uses both software and common sense to create diverse, representative districts that minimize the division of political subgroups and preserve communities of interest, with specific laws which ban drawing districts with the intent to favor a political party or an incumbent legislator.
"Do others states use this?"
There are five states that already use an advisory commission to help draft lines and the seven states that use a backup committee if the legislature does not successfully pass a plan. No other country in the world allows politicians to draw their own district lines.
"What is the selection process for the Commission?"
To serve as a member of the commission, an applicant must fill out a form developed the Secretary of the Commonwealth detailing their qualifications. Here are a few specific provisions that all applicants must meet:
- Each member of the commission must be a registered voter in PA that has not changed his or her political party in three years and has voted in the past two of three Statewide General Elections.
- No member of the commission or his or her spouse can have held elective public office, have registered as a lobbyist, or have served as a paid staff member of any PAC or political body in the past five years.
After all applications are filled out, those that meet the above criteria and are deemed qualified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth will be divided into three groups by political affiliation. From each pool, the Secretary of the Commonwealth will randomly select the 40 individuals, as a jury does. (During this process, the Majority Leader and Minority Leader of both houses – Senate and House – may strike up to two applicants from each subpool. Each party shall have no more than six strikes.) This random selection ensures that there is no political bias in the selection from qualified applicants.
"How much power do independents have in this process?"
The independent commission would consist of 11 members, four individuals registered with the largest political party in the Commonwealth, four individuals registered with the second largest political party, and three members not registered with either major party. Individuals seeking to serve on the commission would be vetted by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and would be randomly selected. To pass any final plan, a majority of at least seven members would be required including at least one member from each major party and one independent member.
"Who has the final say on the maps?"
In establishing districts, the commission shall not consider the following data: Addresses of any individual, political affiliations of registered voters, or previous election results, and must instead use only Federal Census data. During the map creation process, the commission must hold a minimum of four public hearings across the state. Once a seven-member vote is approved by the commission, the new district maps would not be subject to approval by the PA House and Senate or the governor. Additionally, any citizen could appeal the maps directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
If the commission cannot arrive at a seven-member vote of approval on the maps by August 15, the commission will be given an additional 30 days to reconstruct the maps for a vote and must hold another four public hearings on the revised maps. If again, a seven-member majority is not called, the Secretary of the Commonwealth then must petition the Supreme Court to appoint a geographic expert, that holds a graduate degree in geographic information systems and currently serves as a faculty member for a geographic information systems program at an institution of higher learning located within PA, to develop and complete a final redistricting plan. However, the power is not wholly in this individual’s hand. The Supreme Court and Secretary of the Commonwealth must still approve his or her plan.
Read the details of the bills we support:
common gift ban rebuttal
"Is this like Governor Wolf’s gift ban?"
Governor Wolf and his office operate under a self-imposed total gift ban. This Code of Conduct prohibits the acceptance or solicitation of any “gratuity, favor, entertainment, hospitality, loan, in-kind gifts, and any other thing of value.” Governor Wolf’s staff cannot even legally accept water bottles. HB 39/SB 132 is not a total gift ban.
"Don’t we already have gift transparency?"
The system for keeping track of all of these gifts is flimsy at best. The State Department of Ethics has no searchable database of all gifts. Instead, in order to find out what a legislator has accepted, an individual’s only option is to individually search by name and year all Statement of Financial Interest Forms through the State Department’s e-library. (Not all politicians file these forms and many member’s forms are missing. Oversight is notoriously weak. For anything that is not uploaded to the e-library, you must file a Right to Know Request.)
Penalties for non-disclosure are comically low. According to the 2015 State Ethics Committee annual report, under the ‘Financial Disclosure’ section, the penalty of non-disclosure is only $25 a day maxing out at $250. That means a legislator can drag their feet for 10 days after receiving a notice of failure to file and pay a maximum fine of $250. According to the report, the Commonwealth collected $7,250 in such fines, which means 29 legislators refused to disclose gifts and bribes given to them. And these are just the one’s that refused file, there are several ways to manipulate the system and fly under the radar.
Because of the difficulty of monitoring these gifts, transparency is not enough. Additionally, some industries have many lobbyists, and each lobbyist can run up their tab to $249.99 in order to slip thousands of dollars of gifts under the table.
Also, we don’t think disclosure is sufficient. Knowing that our legislators accept gifts that look and smell like bribes won’t help to improve trust in our government.
"Are there any exceptions?"
SB 132 notes obvious, commonsense exceptions to the regulation. For example, meals or snacks provided for a legislator and his or her employees during events would be exempt. Similarly, objects of nominal value and small items like t-shirts and pens would also be exempt. Additionally, legislators would still be able to accept honorary gifts like awards, degrees or trophies without violating the law.
"I don’t accept gifts…"
As constituents of PA, we feel that we can more fully trust our representatives if there is a law in place that specifically prohibits legislators from accepting gifts of value.
"Gifts aren’t really bribes, Do you really think I would change my vote on an issue based on a [insert legislator’s favorite luxury meal] paid for by a lobbyist? I only take gifts from lobbyists whose mission already agrees with my own."
No, we think you are an honorable legislator who wants to serve your constituents. We don’t blame any individual legislator for participating in the after-hours social activities in order to get to know your colleagues in the state house, which often include free meals. Our goal is to change the culture in Harrisburg so that gifts are no longer part of the political process. When a person with an obvious legislative agenda (such as a lobbyist) buys a gift for someone who votes on related legislation / [when a person with business before the state buys a gift for a state officials], it sure looks and smells a lot like a bribe, and even the perception of bribery should be enough of a reason to change the culture in Harrisburg regarding gifts.
"Gifts aren’t much of a problem. We should focus on bigger issues like campaign finance reform."
Restoring trust in our government / Improving our democracy is a long-term project. We’re focusing on the gift ban right now because we know it can pass, and we certainly plan on tackling other legislation to improve our government and our democracy after we pass the gift ban. If you have ideas for future bills, we’d certainly appreciate your input and your support! The sooner we pass the gift ban, the sooner we can move on to other critical issues!
"I think meals are a good way to meet with lobbyists."
Lobbyists serve an important purpose; to present information to legislators. This can be done just as easily in your office. Under this bill you could meet for lunch, but would be required to pay for your own lunch, unless it could fall under the exception for gifts of nominal value such as a cup of coffee or a bottled water.
"This is just politics for Rep. Saccone’s Congressional run. He’s a radical right-winger and I can’t get behind this bill."
Reps should do what’s right for their constituents regardless of who sponsors the bill. If you don’t feel you can cosponsor, we’d understand, but we would still hope you would agree to vote for the bill when it gets to the floor.
"I receive gifts of Sixers tickets, Thanksgiving turkeys, and/or Cirque Du Soleil and distribute them to my constituents in poor districts. If we ban these gifts, then those students wouldn’t have these great experiences."
Isn’t there someone else in the community who could distribute the tickets? You could tell the Sixers to give them to another community leader or a school to distribute them to your constituents, or they can give them directly to the constituents. When you accept these tickets, the people who give them to you are buying favor, and when you give them to your constituents, you are buying favor from voters. There is no reason for an elected official to serve as a ‘middle-man’ in this situation.
Read the details of the bills we support: