Published in the Delaware County Daily Times
By Joseph Batory, Times Guest Columnist
December 10, 2015
Pennsylvania’s budget is now more than five months overdue. However, the Pennsylvania Society’s annual four day event, which few commonwealth citizens know anything about, will be held as scheduled this weekend in Manhattan. This is a blatant example of political arrogance. Pennsylvania elected officials, corporate types and civic big shots will gather in New York “to be seen and heard.” It is also an opportunity for lobbyists to cultivate all sorts of favors from Pennsylvania government officials. All of this will occur while Pennsylvania is crumbling without adequate school funding or a balanced budget.
The Pennsylvania Society began as a smallish retreat for business tycoons in the late 1800s, but it has now become a weekend-long swank party attended by many hundreds of Pennsylvanians with political and corporate agendas. Political networking runs rampant with dozens of lavish parties taking place in New York’s finest clubs, restaurants, and hotels. Just a few years ago, one fundraiser for then-Gov. Tom Corbett, held a private residence, allegedly cost $5,000 per couple. However, it should be noted that many of these swank gatherings are “free” … well, not really, these are” sponsored and subsidized” by lobbyists and other vested interests.
Indeed, the Pennsylvania Society events provide an occasion for wealthy special interests to mingle with the movers and shakers in state government. The four-day event is also an opportunity for Pennsylvania politicians to be far away from the constituents they were elected to serve. And what began as an exclusively Republican event now includes a sizable number of Democrats.
To become a member of the Pennsylvania Society a person needs Pennsylvania roots (a native of Pennsylvania; a descendant of a native of Pennsylvania; a current resident of Pennsylvania; a previous resident of Pennsylvania for seven consecutive years; or a graduate of an accredited college or university in Pennsylvania with an undergraduate or graduate degree). That opens a lot of doors for a wide variety of influence seeking or influence peddling members!
Members pay a one-time entrance fee of $300. Dues are then $75 per year. And an optional life membership is available for a fee of $1,500 without regard to the age of the member.
The main event of The Pennsylvania Society weekend is the “Pennsylvania Society Dinner,” priced at an additional $400 for each member and each guest to attend this annual banquet at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (this year on Dec. 12). In general, political campaign funds, not tax dollars, are used to pay for attendance at these festivities but this only emphasizes that what is occurring is tons of wheeling and dealing.
James Garfield, our 20th president, once said: “It is the people who are responsible for the character of their elected officials. If elected officials are ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate their ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.”
Our state is still incredibly without a budget. And the Pennsylvania Society’s debacle will go on as usual. And the common good for citizens of the commonwealth will be nowhere on the radar screens at these New York parties.
Joseph Batory is the former superintendent of schools in the Upper Darby School District. He is the author of three books and numerous published articles on politics and education.