It is illegal, of course, to pay an elected official or a bureaucrat to specifically buy a state contract.
That's called bribery, or graft.
If you are caught, and if the official is caught, chances are there will be jail time and the end of a public service career.
But there are other subtle forms of backscratching that go on in government that fall under the nicer sounding term, pay to play.
The most recent corruption charges filed by the state Attorney General's office involve the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and pay to play. No, it appears that there was not a defined quid pro quo involved in the conveyence of money from contractors eager for Turnpike projects and the legislator and turnpike commission officials cited in the indictment. This alludes to a wink-wink, nudge-nudge friendliness that goes beyond the altruistic contributions for good government.
There is a bit of talk being generated in the General Assembly that perhaps Pennsylvania needs a law aimed at pay for play. Fifteen other states have them; even the City of Philadelphia has one.
Yet, what is emanating from the General Assembly is not much more than mumbling. Dominic Pileggi, the Senate Majority leader, isn't crazy about the idea of a broad-ranging pay-for-play law, but in light of the Turnpike Commission opprobrium, he is toying with the idea of a bill that would cover the transportation industry. House Speaker Sam Smith opposed two pay-for-play bills that were defeated in the House, saying he thought simply holding a state contract should not disqualify a business or business person from giving to lawmakers who can lean on contracts.
It appears that pay-for-play legislation faces an uphill battle in the great chambers of the Pennsylvania Capitol, where money ebbs and flows like the tides, though no one seems to notice.