Over the weekend, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had an important analysis of Gov.-elect Tom Corbett's transition team. It looks like big donors scored top positions with the incoming governor:
Together, transition-team members contributed $1.9 million to the Pittsburgh-area Republican's gubernatorial campaign, and companies they work for, their co-workers, and political action committees controlled by their employers kicked in $2.7 million. That's nearly 19 percent of the $24.5 million the Corbett campaign spent on the primary and general elections.
Look, it's not shocking to learn that Corbett appointed big donors to his transition team. Gov. Ed Rendell did the same exact thing to reward his supporters, including Steve Frobouck, who was the largest individual contributor to Rendell's gubernatorial campaign in 2001 and co-chair of the transition team. But just because it's nothing new doesn't mean it's not outrageous.
The repeated inclusion of high dollar donors in positions of power is confirmation that Pennsylvania's wild west campaign finance system rewards the big guys at the expense of everyone else. The state currently allows unlimited campaign contributions, which means wealthy interests can shower their chosen candidate with millions of dollars. Then, the same people land influential positions where they can impact government policy.
One example of how this issue relates to Corbett is the natural gas industry. He's gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars from individuals connected to drillers and related companies. That same industry is fighting tooth and nail against a new extraction tax. Corbett opposes the tax, too, and of course it's possible he'd oppose it regardless of industry donations. But wouldn't it be nice for the public to be confident the incoming governor isn't just helping out the folks who bankrolled his campaign?
And speaking of public confidence: Perhaps the most maddening part of the Post-Gazette's article was an explanation from Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley about why the deliberations of the transition team would not be made public.
[Harley] said committee members would not recommend policy. Rather, he said, they will meet with department heads, point out which programs are working best, recommend efficiencies, and identify issues Corbett will need to address during his first few months in office.
Say what? Meeting with department heads, evaluating programs, and identifying important issues ... that sounds an awful lot like recommending policy. And since that will be done by Corbett's biggest donors, there is at least the perception that influence over policy is being bought with campaign contributions.