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Pa. politic$ without any limit$

State pols raise all they can before the end of the year; lucky for them there's no limit.

IN PENNSYLVANIA, money makes the pols go 'round.

And, yeah, it does in other states, too, but our state is one of only a dozen where money tends to matter most in statewide races.

That's because here, unlimited giving by individuals, political parties and PACs is the law of the land.

No other Northeastern state is so wide open.

Every state but the "dirty dozen" - Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Pennsylvania - limits political contributions from such sources.

I assume I don't have to explain the influence of money in politics and on public policy.

You already know it creates a climate for pay-to-play. You already know it underscores the Golden Rule, as in "he who has the gold rules."

But it's also the reason the Common Cause Pennsylvania website lists "clean campaigns" as its No. 1 state issue and says the first priority for that issue is "limiting the size of contributions."

The fact that we don't is especially evident these days.

Democratic candidates for governor are scrambling to raise money by the end of the year so that when the first 2014 campaign finance reports come due next month, we get to see who among eight contenders is really a contender.

It's not right. It's not good for democracy. It limits voters' choices. But it's a fact.

So, for example, Katie McGinty will be busy this evening at the Cira Centre, where Gerard Sweeney, head of Cira developer Brandywine Realty, is hosting a $500- to $2,500-per-person reception for her campaign.

Next week, Allyson Schwartz will raise $1,000 to $10,000 a pop at a John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty IBEW Local 98 fundraiser, with "special guest" U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' Spring Garden Street union hall.

And even wealthy York biz guy Tom Wolf, who's pledged $10 million of his own to his campaign, is raising more in small-group events, "10 or so" this month, according to a campaign spokesman.

Then there's the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering in New York City later this month offering more fundraising opportunities.

Because the Democratic field has little name recognition statewide, it will cost any one of the eight candidates at least $3 million to $4 million in ads to effectively compete.

This, I'd remind you, is to select a candidate to get in position to challenge an incumbent Gov. Corbett, who's expected to raise $30 million to $40 million.

In short, the dash for dough in politics is getting worse - here and elsewhere.

The 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened floodgates for political spending by corporations and unions, and changed the game.

"After Citizens, we see a new wave of interest in money, in politics and, increasingly, at the state level," says Dave Levinthal, of the D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity.

So much so that at least six states - Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota and Wyoming - this year enacted laws raising allowable amounts of campaign contributions, in some cases arguing a need to compete with so-called super PACs.

"There definitely is a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses aspect to it," Levinthal says.

Here, as always, there are a number of bills sitting in our Legislature to limit contributions.

But when I ask Common Cause director Barry Kauffman if he sees such bills actually moving, he says, "There are none that have any legs."

So guess what?

Our pols will keep going around. Big money keeps on rolling in. And the bond between affluent givers, special interests and those who run our government remains securely in place.