It was only after The Inquirer's Angela Couloumbis and Joseph Tanfani went digging around the state capital that they learned of Scarnati's nifty trip. The usually accessible senator never responded directly to questions, instead allowing legal counsel and chief of staff Drew Crompton to speak on his behalf.
"People take hospitality, people take gifts in this state and in other states," Crompton said, as reported Sunday. "It's not whether or not it should occur. It's whether you are complying with the lobbying law that we have. And we are."
Actually, the issue is precisely whether or not it should occur.
The practice of an elected Pennsylvania public official's being able to take gifts and hospitality from private businesses is legal, as Crompton argued. That doesn't make it right.
Scarnati appeared to share similar sentiments, because Monday, the day after news of his trip went viral, he announced his intention to repay his generous host.
"I will fully reimburse Consol for Super Bowl expenses. Was planning to from the start, but don't have paperwork yet." Scarnati reported the development not in an interview or news conference, but through his Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The Jefferson County lawmaker has 128 fans on his Facebook fan page, and 144 followers of his Twitter account. That's like hiding in plain sight - taking it to people, if only the people can find you.
Scarnati will fund the hotel and Super Bowl ticket out of his personal account, Crompton said, while the cost of the flight will come from his campaign fund because "campaign issues were discussed on the flight."
Again, a problem.
Scarnati's fund was enriched by more than $117,000 from companies in the oil and gas industry, more than any other legislator received, according to the watchdog group Common Cause. Since 2006, Consol executives and lobbyists have donated more than $15,000 to Scarnati.
So, arguably, Scarnati is paying back Consol with its own money.
The only elected official who's received more contributions from energy concerns is Gov. Corbett, who, coincidentally, doesn't support taxing Pennsylvania's fastest-growing industry, despite the state's massive budget woes.
More than 35 states have stricter bans on gifts, according to Common Cause Pennsylvania's Barry Kauffman. "The problem is, gifts like this are not illegal," he said. "They should be. There is still a culture of entitlement in Pennsylvania government."
This is yet another situation of the Haves hanging out with the Have Mores. It's not as if the other side - say, environmental advocates - is hosting powerful lawmakers at the Super Bowl.
"It really creates an uneven playing field between those who've got the resources to buy that kind of influence and those who don't," said Jan Jarrett, president of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, an environmental group advocating for an extraction tax and stricter gas-drilling regulations.
Lawmakers shouldn't accept gifts from industries that want them to curb taxes, even if they plan to pay them back. Accepting such a gift doesn't make you disinterested. The host thinks you're friends. You may think you're friends. You may even be friends.
But remember, at all times, this is business. Consider the host's agenda. They're not befriending you because of your blue eyes or sweet smile or shared love for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's because you're in a position to do things for them.
This makes you a cheap date. Multibillion-dollar energy companies spend a few thousand bucks on a Super Bowl weekend with the hopes, well-founded so far, of saving millions in annual taxes.
It's a sweet deal for them that smells fishy to everyone else.
Scratch that. Not fishy - gassy.
"Just once in this lifetime," says Common Cause's Kauffman, a citizens' advocate in Harrisburg for 24 years, "I would like to see that this state passes one cutting-edge reform that makes us the best in the nation."
Good luck with that.
Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or email@example.com. Read her work at www.philly.com/philly/ columnists/karen_heller/