Pennsylvania is among a handful of states that have no limits on supporters' donations to political candidates. Two House bills aim to end that embarrassment.
Reps. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery) and David Levdansky (D., Allegheny) want to restore some order and fairness to the state's campaign-finance system. Their legislation would set individual donor limits for statewide and local races.
At least 40 other states have already done so. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have progressed beyond the state's free-for-all system to set their own limits.
Currently in Pennsylvania, if you're wealthy and think that the state speed limit should be 70 m.p.h., or that the state should stop expanding free health insurance for kids, there's nothing to prevent you from donating $100,000 or more to candidates who share your concerns. That imbalance tends to put average citizens at a serious disadvantage when legislators cast their votes on a given bill.
Incumbent legislators always come up with reasons to beat back attempts to make the system more fair, because the current setup enables those in power to stay in power. But those on the wrong side of this issue just lost another justification last month when the state Supreme Court endorsed campaign-finance limits in a ruling on donations by gaming interests.
Levdansky's bill, which is supported by government watchdog Common Cause, would set a donor limit of $2,400 per election for statewide races, similar to the limit for congressional candidates. He would limit donors to $500 in races for the legislature, county courts, and local offices.
Shapiro wouldn't distinguish between statewide and local races, setting a limit of $2,400 per donor. He'd also limit a political action committee's aggregate contribution to $5,000 per election.
To make campaigns more transparent, Shapiro would increase the number of campaign-finance reports a candidate is required to file and would require every organization that raises or spends money on elections to comply with the reporting requirements.
Another needed proposal is Shapiro's effort to ban state agencies from awarding no-bid contracts to any company or individual if they've made contributions to an officeholder who controls the contract in question.
That would help to restore public confidence that tax dollars are being spent on the most qualified contractor, not the one with the best political connections.
In April, House Republicans, led by Reps. Doug Reichley of Lehigh County and Glen Grell of Cumberland County, introduced similar legislation to discourage awarding of state contracts to campaign donors. With bipartisan support for such a crackdown, there should be enough momentum to get the job done.