Scarnati vows to repay Consol Energy for Super Bowl trip

Sen. Joe Scarnati
Sen. Joe Scarnati
Posted: February 15, 2011

HARRISBURG - The leader of Pennsylvania's Senate said Monday that he would repay one of the state's largest energy companies for his trip to this year's Super Bowl in Texas.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) announced through Twitter and Facebook that he would reimburse Consol Energy Inc. for the trip, which included airfare, hotel stay, and Super Bowl tickets.

"I will fully reimburse Consol for Super Bowl expenses," Scarnati wrote. "Was planning to from the start, but don't have paperwork yet." He could not be reached for further comment. Executives from Consol, one of the companies drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, did not return calls.

Scarnati will use his own money to reimburse Consol for the hotel room and ticket to the game and pay the cost of his flight out of his campaign account, said Drew Crompton, his chief of staff and legal counsel.

Asked why Scarnati was paying for the flight with campaign funds, Crompton responded, "Campaign issues were discussed on the flight."

Consol executives and lobbyists have contributed more than $15,000 to Scarnati's campaigns since 2006, state reports show.

"If he's using the campaign funds, Consol is paying for it anyway," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. He said Scarnati should have paid the costs himself, up front.

Kauffman said a number of states ban legislators from accepting such gifts and travel.

On Sunday, The Inquirer reported that Scarnati, a key player in the debate over natural-gas drilling in Pennsylvania, had accepted the free trip, and that he would consider what, if any, portion to reimburse once he had a full accounting of the costs associated with it.

Crompton at the time said that there was nothing wrong with Scarnati accepting the trip, which is permitted under state ethics laws, and that the senator would disclose on his statement of financial interest any costs associated with it. He also said Scarnati had used no taxpayers' money.

Consol, in a statement, indicated that Scarnati was among several guests the company hosted in Texas for this year's Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. The company has declined to identify them or say whether any other lawmakers were on its guest list.

The company did say it would disclose its expenses for the trip on its next lobbying-disclosure form. Pennsylvania law requires companies and people registered as lobbyists to report hospitality expenses, such as tickets and travel, above a $650 annual threshold - and to identify the lawmakers.

Although it did not report spending on specific lawmakers in 2010, Consol disclosed spending almost $5,000 on hospitality and transportation in early 2009 for two lawmakers: Rep. Paul Costa (D., Allegheny) and Sen. Timothy Solobay (D., Washington). Solobay at the time was a member of the House, and 2009 was the year the Steelers went to the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and beat the Arizona Cardinals.

Neither lawmaker returned calls Monday. An aide who answered the phone in Costa's Harrisburg office said the representative did not go to the Super Bowl this year. She said she did not know whether he had attended in 2009.

Consol, based in Canonsburg, near Pittsburgh, has strong interests in the Capitol.

Besides drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, the company is a major coal producer. It expanded its Marcellus presence last year with the $3.5 billion acquisition of the natural-gas operations of Dominion Resources Inc., including 1.46 million acres of gas leases and 9,000 operating wells.

The legislature has been considering for several years whether to tax natural-gas extraction. Pennsylvania is the largest gas-producing state without such a tax.

Scarnati and other top Senate Republicans last year stood behind a proposal that would have imposed a 1 percent tax on gas extracted, compared with then-Gov. Ed Rendell's support for a 5 percent levy.

As Rendell was leaving office, he accused senators of being unwilling to negotiate and purposely running out the clock so they could kill any chance for a tax once he left office.

Gov. Corbett has said he opposes a tax on the industry, although he has said he would consider proposals to impose fees.

"There were a lot of people in the building who thought it was all a charade," David Masur, executive director of the advocacy group PennEnvironment, said of the Republicans' negotiating efforts. "He [Scarnati] is not the leader for nothing. If he wanted to call a vote, he could have done that."

Scarnati was not the only lawmaker to attend this year's Super Bowl.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) had the majority of his trip paid for by the Steelers, and several other lawmakers said they bought face-value tickets from the team.

Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said Monday that the team had invited "a handful of elected officials" to travel to the game with the team, but that the Steelers expected the officials to reimburse the cost. He said he did not have a list of names available.

Corbett was one of the officials on the trip with the Steelers. Aides said he would pay his own way.

Asked whether public officials were clamoring for the tickets, Lockett said, "All our Steelers fans wanted tickets to get down there."


Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.

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