When I saw the headline in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that read “Pa. senator’s Super Bowl trip courtesy of Consol,” I thought for sure I’d be reading about an elected government official being unseated over a breach of ethics.

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Not so.

Despite the fact that “Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, had his ticket, plane ride, and hotel bill paid for by Consol Energy Inc., a major coal producer and one of the companies drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale,” it appears that the senator is not only being allowed to keep his job but, shockingly, is credited for behaving within the guidelines of ethical conduct set forth by Pennsylvania government! Let me first give a brief introduction to the Marcellus shale drilling controversy and then I’ll talk about why strict ethical guidelines are important in both government and procurement…

The whole Marcellus Shale drilling issue is one of the most controversial political things happening right now in Pennsylvania as many residents are concerned about drinking water contamination, property value reduction, and other ill-effects of the drilling. So, for an elected official to accept Super Bowl tickets and travel accommodations from a company with an interest firmly on one side of the issue is unfathomable to me.

However, the article points out that “Pennsylvania law allows legislators to accept such tickets and travel so long as they report everything above a $650 annual threshold.” That’s troubling!

Look, gifts either influence the receiver or create the perception that the receiver is influenced by them. To allow a legislator to have no limit on the gifts s/he can receive and be influenced by as long as they report what they get – whoopdeedoo – is scary.

What scares me more is how Senator Scarnati’s office, like Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has in the past, used the “but the rules say it’s OK” defense in deflecting any ethical scrutiny. Yes, the rules say it’s OK but, c’mon, don’t these politicians have common sense?

If you’re accepting such extravagant personal gifts, you’re going to be influenced. And any decision you make in favor of who bought you those gifts will appear to have been the result of that influence.

Accepting gifts – unless required by a culturally sensitive situation and then only when there is an ethical way of distributing those gifts so that you do not personally benefit from them – is a dumb move. It is clear that, if the “rules” are loose and leave room for the potential gift receiver to exercise judgment, good judgment will not prevail on many occasions.

Moral of the story: organizations and their procurement departments should have tight, documented standards against accepting gifts. And you’ll have to look to the procurement community for those standards. Obviously, government is not a role model for ethical procurement.

One last note: Even if there is no procurement policy that currently forbids you from accepting gifts, decline them anyway. You’ll be a better professional for having standards that are above-and-beyond those that are written (or not yet written).

To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2
President & Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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