A state ethics law probe follows Margo Davidson’s arrest for theft

State Rep. Margo Davidson

State Rep. Margo Davidson Commonwealth Media Services

Following the arrest of one of its own members, the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee will launch a review of state ethics laws aimed at curbing criminal acts by public officials, its chairman announced this week. 

House State Government Committee Chair Seth Grove announced the planned review of ethics laws last week after the former minority committee chair, state Rep. Margo Davidson, was arrested on charges of theft and fraud. 

“Theft by deception, theft from charity, accepting cash for a voting understanding, using state staff or state resources for campaign purposes, conspiracy, and fraud are just some of the reasons legislators have been charged over the past few years,” Grove said in a statement. “What can we do legislatively to protect taxpayers and constituents?”

The committee’s review will examine the state Ethics Act and state Pension Forfeiture Law, as well as the ability for lawmakers to lease out vehicles and claim legislative per diems, which are flat-rate reimbursements for lawmakers traveling out of their district. 

Grove said the Subcommittee on Government Integrity and Transparency, chaired by state Rep. Paul Schemel, will review the state’s Ethics Act and legislative per diem process, while the Subcommittee on Public Pensions, Benefits and Risk Management, chaired by state Rep. Brett Miller, will review the state’s Pension Forfeiture Act. 

The Subcommittee on Campaign Finance and Elections, which is led by state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, will also be reviewing House Speaker Bryan Cutler’s proposed lobbying reform legislative package, Grove said. 

On July 22, Attorney General Josh Shapiro charged Davidson, a Democrat from Delaware County, with theft by deception, solicitation to hinder prosecution and multiple Election Code violations. 

The criminal complaint filed against Davidson alleges that from 2015 to 2019 she profited off of state funds by requesting legislative reimbursements for expenses already paid for by her campaign committee. The complaint also accuses Davidson of requesting legislative per diems for overnight stays that did not occur. 

Davidson promptly resigned as the charges were announced.

Grove hopes the review of state ethics laws – and the legislative changes that could result from it – will help discourage lawmakers from shirking them in the future.

“There is no excuse – ever, for an elected official, let alone a member of the General Assembly to step over the line of the law,” Grove said in a statement. “The State House Government Committee will review the current laws and procedures to make recommendations on how we can further discourage this behavior that erodes public confidence.”