March On Harrisburg’s Action Toolkit

There are many different ways to build legislative momentum to move our bills. Here are four core actions we ask you to take:

Pressure Legislative Leadership

Lobby Your Legislators

Citizen Billboarding

Write A Letter To The Editor

How To Get Started

The first thing you can do to get started is to call, fax, email or snail mail your legislator about the impact of corruption in your life and the lives of citizens across Pennsylvania.  The following information will help aquaint you with the finer details of where we are at now and help us get to where we want to be – on the floor for a vote.
Our Bills:

We are a deeply divided nation and a house divided cannot stand. We must restore trust between government and citizen. Each of these problems is an absurdity in our democracy, a distortion of the relationship between citizen and government.

Gerrymandering (Citizen Controlled Redistrcting):

Gerrymandering is a distortion of the relationship between citizen and government. It is when politicians choose their voters, instead of voters choosing our elected representatives. It is when politicians draw district lines to protect incumbents and to sway elections.

Pennsylvania is the 49th most gerrymandered state in the union. In 2012, one party won 49% of statewide votes for the US House of Representatives and the other party won 51%. The party that won 49% of the total vote won 13 out of 18 seats in the US House of Representatives. The party that won fewer votes, ended up winning eight more seats in Congress.

Right now, our maps are drawn by party leaders in the State Legislature and by the State Supreme Court (which is a partisan body in PA).

SB22 and HB722 would create an independent non-partisan commission to draw our districts.

These bills currently sit in the House and Senate State Government Committees, chaired by Representative Daryl Metcalfe and Senator Mike Folmer.

 

 

Because changing the redistricting process requires a Constitutional amendment, this legislation must pass in two consecutive sessions. If this bill does not pass by June 30th, 2018, it will not affect elections until 2032.

Gift Ban (End Legalized Bribery):

We are one of only ten states that does not have a ban on large gifts.

Gifts violate the public’s trust in our legislators by creating closer relationships between the giver and the recipient. We want our legislators to be responsive to the people, not to the gift givers.

SB132 and HB39 would ban gifts to public officials and employees from anybody who has any business before that public servant or their office. This is not a total gift ban, because there are exceptions for items of little economic value like educational missions, refreshments at large events, plaques and awards given, and other common sense items.

These bills currently sit in the House and Senate State Government Committees, chaired by Representative Daryl Metcalfe and Senator Mike Folmer.

 
Find Your Legislator and Schedule a Meeting
Then give your legislators a call.  You can use the following script if it would make you more comfortable scheduling your meeting.
My name is ___. I am a constituent of Representative / Senator _. I’m reaching out to schedule an in-district meeting with the Representative / Senator about HB 722: Independent Redistricting Commission and HB 39: Gift Limitations for Public Officials. These are reforms that are widely supported in my community. Please let me know what their schedule is like on (the days and times you are available).

Do’s and Don’t’s of Lobbying:

  • 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 NOT get personal about specific politicians or specific political parties. DO NOT SUCCUMB TO POLITICAL TRIBALISM. BE NON-PARTISAN.
  • 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 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 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.
Things We Hear. These are arguments and talking points that you may hear when lobbying:

“This is the way it’s always been,” or “I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s never been a problem before.”

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, respond:

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 230 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. https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf

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).

SB 22 / HB 722: Independent Redistricting Commission

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

SB 132 / HB 39: Gift Limitations for Public Officials

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?

Legislators disclose any gifts that they have received that are valued at more than $250. However, 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, things 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.

Letters to the Editor:

Public opinion, especially the opinion of constituents, matters to elected officials. To show representatives in Harrisburg that we are watching what they are doing and that we want a vote on SB 22: Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission and SB 132: Gift Limitations for Public Officials, we are targeting representatives that have not been supportive of this legislation through a letter-to-the-editor writing campaign.

 

Here’s what we need you to do:

  1. Modify one these letter templates, filling in your personal reason for supporting these bills.
  2. E-mail this letter to your local newspaper, specifically the letters to the editor or opinion section (their email can be found through a simple Google search).
  3. Post the published article to our March on Harrisburg Facebook page and/or email it to media@marchonharrisburg.orgHB 722: Independent Redistricting CommissionSubject: Take Redistricting Out of Incumbents’ HandsTo the Editor at _,Gerrymandering is the (now much discussed) process by which legislators are able to select their own voters by allowing incumbents to draw their own congressional and state district lines.  Pennsylvania has some of the worst gerrymandered districts of any state across the country, ranking third worst in the nation by The Electoral Integrity Project for the way the state draws legislative and congressional district boundaries.

     

    However, there is a bipartisan solution that was introduced by Representative Samuelson and Representative Roe, HB 722.  This legislation establishes an independent commission made up of members from both political parties, as well as independents, to draw Pennsylvania’s legislative maps. This bill is not an 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.


    Gerrymandering secures a given district for one party, meaning that politicians don’t need to appeal to anyone but their own party members. This encourages polarization and diminishes the power and impact of “one person, one vote.”


Depending on your Legislator’s support and your own personal connections to the bills, choose one or more of the templates to guide your letter to the editor.

HB 39: Gift Limitations for Public Officials
Subject: Pennsylvania Needs Common Sense Gift Reform

To the Editor at _______,

Right now in Pennsylvania, unlike almost every other state, it is completely legal for paid lobbyists to “gift” (bribe) anything to our legislators. Paid lobbyists and corporations routinely give luxury items like vacations, tickets, and everything in-between to politicians, in the hardly-shielded hopes of receiving favorable legislation for their respective industries in return. HB 39, introduced by conservative Republican Representative Saccone, limits gifts to public officials, allowing for commonsense exemptions to the bill. While the bipartisan legislation specifically prohibits legislators from accepting gifts from anyone who stands to significantly benefit from a favorable opinion from the state House or Senate, it still allows legislators to accept items of nominal value, like pens or t-shirts.

***FILL IN: 1-3 SENTENCES ON WHY YOU CARE ABOUT THIS ISSUE***

Example: When legislators accept gifts from paid lobbyists, I feel that I cannot trust that my legislator is working on behalf of my community.  

Studies show that support by moneyed elites has more impact on legislation than support by the public at large. In order to have a responsive, accountable government, citizens must demand an end to bribery of our elected officials.

 

Sincerely,
Name
March on Harrisburg Participant
E-mail

HB 722: Independent Redistricting Commission
Subject: Take Redistricting Out of Incumbents’ Hands

To the Editor at _,

Gerrymandering is the (now much discussed) process by which legislators are able to select their own voters by allowing incumbents to draw their own congressional and state district lines.  Pennsylvania has some of the worst gerrymandered districts of any state across the country, ranking third worst in the nation by The Electoral Integrity Project for the way the state draws legislative and congressional district boundaries.

However, there is a bipartisan solution that was introduced by Representative Samuelson and Representative Roe, HB 722.  This legislation establishes an independent commission made up of members from both political parties, as well as independents, to draw Pennsylvania’s legislative maps. This bill is not an 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.

Gerrymandering secures a given district for one party, meaning that politicians don’t need to appeal to anyone but their own party members. This encourages polarization and diminishes the power and impact of “one person, one vote.”

***FILL IN: 1-3 SENTENCES ON WHY YOU CARE ABOUT THIS ISSUE***

Note: If you live in the Seventh Congressional District in PA, you are in one of the most gerrymandered districts in the country! Write about it!

Sincerely,
Name
March on Harrisburg Participant
E-mail