Editorial: Reform, not rhetoric
Both candidates for governor are promoting detailed plans to clean up Harrisburg, but will it become reality? Democrat Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County executive, is calling for limits on campaign donations in Pennsylvania.
Both candidates for governor are promoting detailed plans to clean up Harrisburg, but will it become reality?
Democrat Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County executive, is calling for limits on campaign donations in Pennsylvania.
Republican Tom Corbett, the state attorney general who's prosecuting dozens of public officials for corruption, favors greater disclosure of campaign spending and a ban on donations from government contractors.
A grand jury investigating the legislature under Corbett's direction has issued a report calling for reforms in Harrisburg to combat chronic corruption and waste. Among its recommendations are reducing the size of the General Assembly, cracking down on patronage hiring, and cutting back on perks for legislators.
Many of the most important changes would require the approval of legislators themselves - a major roadblock.
But a governor can set the tone for reform, and the state's campaign-finance system is badly in need of a major overhaul.
Pennsylvania currently places no limit on the amount of money that individuals and political-action committees can donate to candidates for public office. It results in fat cats and powerful industry groups, such as natural-gas drillers opposed to a production tax, giving six-figure donations to campaigns to curry favor with decision-makers in Harrisburg.
This anything-goes system favors incumbents, which is why it's so hard to change. And while Corbett and Onorato say they favor reforms to the system, both candidates are accepting obscenely large campaign donations in this perennial arms race.
Both candidates should make reform a cornerstone of their campaign. Voters should demand it.
Onorato wants Pennsylvania to adopt campaign-donation limits similar to the federal level - $2,400 per individual and $5,000 per PAC. Even that standard is higher than necessary, but any limit in Pennsylvania would be a good start.
Corbett would rather focus on greater transparency in campaign-finance reporting and a ban on political contributions and gifts from anyone who has an interest in obtaining a government contract. Both ideas would improve the system. Onorato wants to end no-bid contracts to remove the perception of "pay-to-play."
Onorato brings a tougher approach to the pervasive problem of redistricting. He supports an independent commission to redraw "compact and contiguous" state House and Senate districts, without regard to incumbents or party registration. That's the best hope for fixing the state's gerrymandered districts. Corbett has been largely silent on the issue.
Both candidates say they want to shrink the size of the legislature (253 legislators, 2,800 employees) and reduce its cost (more than $300 million per year). Onorato and Corbett support a limited constitutional convention, which could achieve those goals but also would require the legislature's approval for a referendum.
Onorato favors term limits for legislators, adding up to no more than 12 years. Corbett supports term limits for House and Senate party leaders and committee chairs, a more sensible approach.
Whatever the reform agenda, the next governor should set the tone upon taking office in January by calling the legislature into a special session focused exclusively on public integrity.
A new approach in Harrisburg needs to start on Day One.