March 4

After marching 16 miles from Phoenixville, protesters from MarchOnHarrisburg rally in Pottstown's Smith Family Plaza in support of a bill that would ban state legislators from receiving gifts, particularly from lobbyists.

POTTSTOWN — It seems like common sense, says Emmie DiCicco, that lobbyists should not be allowed to buy gifts for Pennsylvania legislators.

March 1

Marchers making their way from Philadelphia to Harrisburg to push for a state law banning legislators from receiving gifts from lobbyists make their way along the 400 block of High Street in Pottstown Monday.

"Whenever we tell people that's why we're marching, they're like 'yeah, that makes sense,'" she said Monday, April 29, as she paused near The Hill School on High Street on the 16-mile march from Phoenixville to Pottstown.

DiCicco is director of media relations for MarchOn Harrisburg, a non-profit non-partisan group trying to "get money out of politics" and increase voter access and ensure fair elections.

The group has twice marched from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, and once from Lancaster to Harrisburg, in support of its cause. "Next year, we're marching from Pittsburgh," said Michael Pollack, the group's executive director.

March 2

On Day 3 of their march from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, protesters finished day 3 at Smith Family Plaza in downtown Pottstown.

One of the marchers didn't wait for the march to come to her.

"We're marching to Harrisburg to make bribery illegal," said Pittsburgh resident Maddie Whitehall. 

"Pennsylvania is one of eight states where bribery is currently legal," said Marty Telarico, who came all the way from Seattle to participate.

He defines "bribery" in this case as "any unlimited loan or gift to state legislators. It could be vacations, it could be cars, you name it."

"At the end of the day, we will have gone 40 miles. Tomorrow we'll be in Reading and we'll have one day off, and then we'll finish the journey into Sunday night," DiCicco said.

"That's 38,000 steps today," added Whitehall.

Next Monday, the group will in Harrisburg "doing non-violent direct action in the House" in support of House Bill 1291.

The bipartisan legislation, which would make it illegal for lobbyists to bribe Pennsylvania legislators with gifts like cars, vacations and fancy meals, was introduced by Rep. Tina M. Davis and Rep. Thomas Murt.

March last

After marching 16 miles from Phoenixville to Pottstown Monday, protesters from MarchOnHarrisburg were off to enjoy the overnight hospitality of the Unitarian Universalist Church in North Coventry.

Organizers note that in 2015, the Center for Public Integrity gave Pennsylvania a grade of "F," ranking as the 45th most corrupt state in the nation.

Worse yet, that grade marks a slide from the state's grade of C- in 2012.

As numerous investigations, which often result in little jail time for those found guilty has shown, "there is no statutory prohibition in Pennsylvania law for state officials accepting gifts or hospitality, unless there is an explicit quid pro quo. Defense attorneys have successfully fought off prosecution of bribery by arguing that gifts were never linked to specific contracts or favors," according to the Center for Public Integrity.

"MarchOnHarrisburg is committed to taking Pennsylvania from a failing grade in democracy, to one of the least corrupt states in the country," according to its website, giftban.org.

Gift Ban Sign

Signs for the MarchOnHarrisburg group put up Monday in Smith Family Plaza direct those interested in learning more to their website, giftban.org.

"To do so, MarchOnHarrisburg is working to pass pro-democracy, anti-corruption legislation. Currently, MarchOnHarrisburg is advocating for legislation that would end gerrymandering and end legalized bribery."

The role lobbyists play is on blatant display in Harrisburg, said Pollack.

Gov. Tom Wolf has instituted a "voluntary gift ban" in his administration, "but it doesn't extend to the legislative branch and once he's gone, the ban is gone," he said.

"When you go to the parking garage next to the capitol, you can see the gas industry, Comcast, they have paid for all the best spots," said Pollack.

March 5

Emmie DiCicco, left, director of media and communications for MarchOnHarrisburg with the group's executive director Michael Pollack, in Smith Family Plaza Monday after walking from Phoenixville.

"There are 203 registered lobbyists for the natural gas industry and Pennsylvania is the only state that doe's impose a severance tax. Do you think that's an accident?" asked Pollack.

"Pennsylvania is now responsible for 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "Buying a Pennsylvania politician is one of the best returns on investment you can make," he said.

"In the last two years since we started MarchOnHarrisburg, we have marched 181 miles; we have lobbied 250 of our 253 state legislators; we have forced five committee hearings; we have done 12 non-violent direct actions; we have forced the governor to get involved when he doesn't want to; we have forced the speaker to get involved when he doesn't want to; we have changed the narrative in the capitol; we are bringing the people's voice to the people's House," Pollack told the marchers as they rested in Smith Family Plaza.

The group is currently focused on getting HB1291 to the floor of the House for a vote, but intends to keep on pushing for change, said Pollack.

They are also likely to pay attention to something else as well — the importance of comfortable shoes.

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