Time for Pa. to ap­prove cam­paign fi­nance re­form

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - OPINION - — Pen­nLive.com

Late last month, Gov. Tom Wolf, joined by his Demo­cratic al­lies in the state House and Se­nate, rolled out a com­pre­hen­sive suite of re­forms aimed at restor­ing pub­lic trust in the elec­toral process and to limit the in­flu­ence of spe­cial in­ter­ests in state pol­i­tics.

In­cluded among them was a pro­posal to fix Penn­syl­va­nia’s bro­ken cam­paign fi­nance sys­tem.

“To re­build trust in Har­ris­burg, we must have fair and ac­ces­si­ble elec­tions for all cit­i­zens from our ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to our big cities,” Wolf said in a state­ment. “These re­forms have been cham­pi­oned by House and Se­nate Democrats to mod­ern­ize our vot­ing laws and put the peo­ple of Penn­syl­va­nia back in con­trol of our elec­tions. It’s time to re­move bar­ri­ers to vot­ing, end ger­ry­man­der­ing, and curb spe­cial in­ter­ests.”

Plans would per­mit elec­tion­day reg­is­tra­tion, re­dis­trict­ing re­forms, and cam­paign fi­nance re­forms. Leg­isla­tive ac­tion is needed.

If you’re hav­ing trouble remembering that an­nounce­ment, take heart, you’re not the only one. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing a bit of at­ten­tion at the time, the re­forms Wolf floated were promptly swal­lowed by the leg­isla­tive

With Penn­syl­va­nia’s pri­mary elec­tions now lit­tle more than a cou­ple weeks away, these pro­pos­als are worth re­vis­it­ing.

These cam­paign fi­nance re­form bills spon­sored by the Demo­cratic floor lead­ers in the state House and Se­nate, would fi­nally in­ject some san­ity into Penn­syl­va­nia’s laugh­ably porous ex­ist­ing laws.

Right now, it’s open sea­son in Penn­syl­va­nia for deep-pock­eted donors and spe­cial in­ter­ests. ma­chine. There are no con­tri­bu­tion lim­its. And only di­rect cor­po­rate con­tri­bu­tions are banned - though there are plenty of ways for cor­po­rate Amer­ica to work their way around that.

The House bill, spon­sored by Mi­nor­ity Leader Frank Der­mody, D-Al­legheny, would, among other things, im­pose hard caps on con­tri­bu­tions. They are: • $1,500 per elec­tion to House and Se­nate can­di­dates

• $5,000 per elec­tion to statewide can­di­dates

• $10,000 per elec­tion to House and Se­nate can­di­dates from PACs

• $10,000 per elec­tion to PAC’s from po­lit­i­cal par­ties

• $250,000 ag­gre­gate limit per elec­tion for House and Se­nate can­di­dates

• $1,000,000 ag­gre­gate limit per elec­tion for statewide can­di­dates

• $5,000,000 ag­gre­gate limit per elec­tion for gov­er­nor

The bill would also re­quire so-called groups that make un­co­or­di­nated ex­pen­di­tures on be­half of can­di­dates and cam­paigns to dis­close those con­tri­bu­tions.

Sim­i­lar re­quire­ments are now in place in Con­necti­cut and Mary­land, Der­mody wrote in a “Dear Col­league” memo seek­ing sup­port for his pro­posal.

Sep­a­rate leg­is­la­tion, spon­sored by Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Jay Costa, D-Al­legheny, would limit elec­tion ex­pen­di­tures to “the pur­pose of in­flu­enc­ing the out­come of an elec­tion, to ex­penses di­rectly and ex­clu­sively in­curred for the cam­paign in which the can­di­date is run­ning in the con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous elec­tion cy­cle and not for any per­sonal pur­pose. The leg­is­la­tion also ad­dresses ac­cep­tance of cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from out-of-state com­mit­tees.”

Costa’s bill would sim­i­larly crack down on in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture groups, and would, like Der­mody’s pro­posal, re­quire cor­po­ra­tions to no­tify share­hold­ers when po­lit­i­cal ex­pen­di­tures (through po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees) are made on their be­half. The bills also would re­quire com­pa­nies to seek share­holder per­mis­sion for con­tri­bu­tions of $10,000 or more.

The pro­pos­als by the two Democrats hardly rein­vent the wheel. Cam­paign fi­nance re­form pro­pos­als have been mak­ing the rounds un­der the Capi­tol dome for decades.

Yet law­mak­ers, who are un­will­ing to choke off the pre­cious flow of cam­paign cash, have proven al­most con­gen­i­tally in­ca­pable of pass­ing them.

And that’s one of the rea­sons why it’s so easy to stand up and call for re­form. Know­ing full well they’ll go nowhere, there’s zero po­lit­i­cal risk, but ev­ery­thing to gain.

It’s also one of the rea­sons why Penn­syl­va­nia scored an “F’’ for cam­paign fi­nance, fin­ish­ing 43rd in the na­tion, on a 2015 re­port card put to­gether by the watch­dog Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity.

Mean­while, un­til or un­less some­thing changes, pol­i­tics in Penn­syl­va­nia is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a rich man’s (or woman’s) game.

Two of the three Repub­li­can can­di­dates for gov­er­nor, both in­de­pen­dently wealthy, have dug deep into their own pock­ets to fund their cam­paigns. Wolf, sim­i­larly, is sit­ting on a $14.7 mil­lion war chest as he revs up re-elec­tion ma­chin­ery.

Given Penn­syl­va­nia’s his­toric al­lergy to po­lit­i­cal re­form, the Key­stone State is un­likely to em­brace the pub­lic fi­nanc­ing op­tions that are in place in more than two dozen states, coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the coun­try.

But law­mak­ers can at least be­gin the con­ver­sa­tion by bring­ing Costa’s and Der­mody’s bills to the floor of their re­spec­tive cham­bers to a vote.

That would force law­mak­ers to go on record to show where they stand on the per­va­sive — and of­ten per­ni­cious — in­flu­ence of big money on our pol­i­tics.

Frankly, this is what the vot­ers de­serve, and noth­ing less. his

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Penn­syl­va­nia Gov. Tom Wolf, cen­ter, ac­com­pa­nied by state House Mi­nor­ity Leader Rep. Frank Der­mody, right, D-Al­legheny, and state Rep. Joe Markosek, left, D-Al­legheny, in a file photo. Der­mody is propos­ing steps to re­form state cam­paign fi­nance laws.

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