Lawmaker took World Series tickets from IronPigs days after voting to give team $1.5M
- Joshua Siegel disclosed he accepted World Series tickets from the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to see the Philadelphia Phillies take on the Houston Astros last year
- The game occurred about a week after Siegel voted to give the team $1.5 million for improvements to Coca-Cola Park
- Siegel, now a state representative, said he did nothing wrong, but the Allentown Code of Ethics bars officials from taking gifts from organizations that sought city funding
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Days after then-City Councilman Joshua Siegel fought to give the Lehigh Valley IronPigs $1.5 million of city funding, he attended a World Series game in Philadelphia with two tickets gifted to him by the minor league franchise.
Siegel, who is now a state lawmaker representing parts of the city and Salisbury Township, reported the gift on his 2022 financial disclosure form to the state. The tickets do not break any provisions in state law; there is no limit on what gifts state representatives, senators or candidates for those offices can accept so long as they're reported.
However, the tickets may violate an Allentown gift ban Siegel and council passed last summer.
Under the amendment to the city's Code of Ethics that he co-sponsored, city employees and elected officials are prohibited from accepting anything of value from any person or entity the individual knows or believes has received or sought financial benefits from the city within the past three years.
In an interview last week, Siegel said he did nothing wrong and that he does not believe he broke either city or state law by accepting the tickets.
“To be abundantly clear, I had been advocating for supporting the IronPigs well before [the World Series]. I think that was a six- to seven-month discussion,” Siegel said.
"I think you'd have to be a pretty cheap individual to have your entire position shifted to see a game from a box seat," he said.
“An official or employee, his or her spouse or domestic partner, child or stepchild, parent, or member of his or her household may not solicit nor accept anything of value, directly or indirectly, from any person or entity that the official or employee knows, or has reason to believe, has received or sought a financial benefit, directly or through a relationship with another person or entity, from the City within the previous three years, or intends to seek a financial benefit in the future ("restricted source"). If in doubt, the official or employee should refrain from soliciting or refuse a gift and should first inquire into the person or entity's relationship with the City or with a restricted source. [Or, if the official or employee does not know whether a person or entity fits this description, he or she should inquire, and, if it is discovered that the person or entity does fit this description, the gift should be returned (or its monetary value if it cannot be returned) and no further gifts accepted during the relevant period.]”Allentown's Code of Ethics - subsection on gift's and favors
If Siegel violated the ethics rules, it’s unclear what, if any, discipline he would face. The Code of Ethics states elected officials could face penalties up to losing their office for violating any of its provisions. But Siegel, a Democrat, resigned from city council in December after winning the election for the 22nd District state House seat.
The IronPigs also may have violated the Code of Ethics, which bars entities from even attempting to give a gift to a city employee or elected official if they sought a financial benefit from the city within the previous three years. However, the code includes no penalties for gift-givers.
In a prepared statement, Kurt Landes, the IronPigs' president and general manager, said that the tickets had nothing to do with Siegel's vote.
"There was absolutely no connection with making an accommodation of baseball tickets, which the Phillies make available to all their affiliates, and Mr. Siegel. Josh has been a long-time supporter of the IronPigs and all of the businesses based in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley.
"Everything the IronPigs have ever done for any elected official over the last 16 years has been legal, ethical, and fully disclosed."Kurt Landes, IronPigs president and general manager
"Everything the IronPigs have ever done for any elected official over the last 16 years has been legal, ethical, and fully disclosed," Landes said. He said the team would have no further comment.
Allentown City Council President Daryl Hendricks, who also voted to support the IronPigs, declined to comment.
Solicitor Jack Gross declined to comment and deferred to the Allentown Board of Ethics, which is tasked with issuing advisory opinions related to the code. City Clerk Mike Hanlon said the board meets as needed; it has not convened in over three years and the five-member board has three vacancies. The board is currently without a chair.
Coca-Cola Park upgrades
Siegel’s presence at one of the nation’s premier sporting events came days after city council reached a contentious decision on whether to award the IronPigs $1.5 million of American Rescue Plan funding. Major League Baseball was requiring the IronPigs to make $9.5 million of upgrades to Coca-Cola Park, and team officials hoped the city would help them finance the improvements to the Lehigh County-owned stadium.
Siegel quickly became a vocal supporter of providing the funding, backing the plan months before the Phillies’ improbable playoff run. While some council members questioned the wisdom of upgrading a facility they didn’t own when the city faced other needs, Siegel argued Allentown couldn’t risk the black eye of losing a beloved institution.
"Allentown’s going through this renaissance and revitalization right now, and one of the worst things we could do is sap that momentum by failing to invest in, I think, a really valuable cultural asset," he said at a July 13, 2022, city council meeting.
Siegel’s arguments failed to sway a tightly divided city council. He, Hendricks and Councilwoman Cynthia Mota supported awarding the IronPigs $1.5 million but were overruled by council members Candida Affa, Ce-Ce Gerlach, Natalie Santos and Ed Zucal.
(The IronPigs have since committed to staying in the region after Lehigh County agreed to provide up to $3 million; the Philadelphia Phillies, the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and Northampton County provided additional funding.)
About a week later, Siegel said he and his girlfriend sat on the first baseline at Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies take on the Houston Astros. Siegel said he wasn’t sure which game he attended but recalled it was one of two home games the Phillies lost.
"I don't regret my decision. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Siegel said.
The tickets were offered to other community leaders in the region, according to Siegel. He said he was not aware if other city officials were offered or accepted World Series tickets.
The two tickets, he said, had a value of $525, an amount provided to him by the IronPigs. On the secondary market, those same tickets would have fetched far more. Multiple media outlets reported at the time that the average ticket to see a World Series game in Philadelphia last November was approximately $3,200.
Siegel said he supports legislation creating reasonable gift bans, recognizing they can prevent the erosion of public trust. While he opposes strict bans that prevent public servants from accepting even a bottle of water, he could get behind a provision that capped gifts to $50, $100 or $250, he said.
But he contended that gifts are not necessarily a problem in politics. He compared sitting down to talk with a lobbyist over a meal to business executives hitting the links at a country club. Both create an opportunity to discuss brass tacks in an informal setting, he said.
The problem with gifts, he said, is when they influence a politician to change their vote because of the perks they’ve received. And while high-profile gifts raise eyebrows, something sentimental such as an autographed jersey could be enough for a bad actor.
“I think there's a lot of misconception and deliberate misinformation. As a result of legitimate cynicism, people believe you have lunch with a stakeholder and all of a sudden your vote changes,” Siegel said. “If your vote is for sale, that's a whole other problem.”
Mike Pollack, executive director of the good government group March on Harrisburg, does not see the same level of nuance when it comes to gifts in politics. His organization has repeatedly referred to the practice as “legal bribery.”
“When large corporate special interests can operate with bribes, people can’t compete with that. The voice of the people gets drowned out in the tidal wave of corruption,” he said.
“You're describing the problem, and this happens day in and day out across Pennsylvania.”Mike Pollack, executive director of March on Harrisburg
When informed of Siegel’s acceptance of the World Series tickets and Allentown’s gift ban, Pollack didn’t mince words.
“You're describing the problem, and this happens day in and day out across Pennsylvania,” he said.
Pennsylvania has some of the laxest rules regarding political gifts in the nation, Pollack said. State lawmakers can legally accept gifts valued at $250 or more – even cash in some instances – so long as they report it on their annual financial disclosure form. While there might be political fallout, lawmakers could legally accept cars or trips abroad.
By comparison, Ohio bars state lawmakers from accepting gifts of more than $75 with exceptions for when they serve as a speaker on a panel or at a convention. New York doesn’t limit what lawmakers can accept but prohibits registered lobbyists from providing gifts to elected officials. New Jersey’s law is similar to New York’s, but its law allows gifts under $250 and provides an exception for officials whose family members serve as lobbyists.
Gifts in politics
Stronger proposals of gift bans for Pennsylvania lawmakers have been floated to the General Assembly for decades, Pollack said. They’ve met limited success. For several years, Pollack’s March on Harrisburg has promoted a bill that would forbid lawmakers from accepting any gift of $250 or more from a non-family member. In 2019 and 2021, the bill achieved the modest success of passing through the House’s State Government Committee, but it’s never came up for a vote before the full chamber.
Pollack said the culture of gifts run deep in the state capitol, and change would require action from the senators and representatives who benefit from it. He said his organization remains optimistic something will change, even as his group is sometimes “rude and disrespectful” with the lawmakers they need to simultaneously persuade and police.
“It's very difficult. We keep getting bigger, bolder and badder at what we do,” Pollack said.
Gifts in politics isn’t an issue reserved exclusively to Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. The state’s executive branch approach to gifts is established by the sitting governor. Former Gov. Tom Wolf set a hard ban, forbidding himself, his cabinet and employees from accepting any gift. Critics argued the rule was draconic, preventing staffers from even accepting a bottle of water while meeting with community groups.
Gov. Josh Shapiro eased that standard, allowing employees to accept modest meals, small giveaways that are available to the general public and plaques or similar awards related to their work. Gifts from lobbyists remain prohibited.
However, Pollack and other critics argue Shapiro almost immediately violated his own executive order in February when he attended Super Bowl LVII, where the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. The trip was paid for by Team Pennsylvania, a nonprofit group run by the sitting governor and leaders in the private sector with a mission of improving the state’s economy. Created by former Gov. Tom Ridge’s administration, state government has used it to try to attract companies to Pennsylvania and boost different economic sectors.
Shapiro’s administration has denied the trip was a gift, telling PoliticsPa in February that Team Pennsylvania’s long history of collaborating with the state makes it “completely incomparable to a private actor.” The organization previously bankrolled former Gov. Tom Corbett’s five-day trade mission to France in 2012.