Illinois, infamous for political corruption, enacted its first-ever campaign contribution limits last week, on the one-year anniversary of the arrest of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Pennsylvania should be next.
Only 11 states, including Pennsylvania, have yet to limit how much money individuals or political action committees can donate to candidates for public office. It's a failure that erodes public confidence in the legislature and allows special interests to dictate public policy coming out of Harrisburg.
Nationwide, states restrict individual donations to legislative candidates to an average of $3,600 per election. But in Pennsylvania, big money can speak as loudly as it wants in the legislature.
In 2006, candidates for the state House and Senate spent more than $57 million on their campaigns. Nearly $42 million was spent on the governor's race.
Thus, nobody batted an eye last May, when Morgan O'Brien, CEO of Duquesne Light, and his wife donated $25,000 to the campaign of Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson). Or when Roger Reschini, an insurance company executive from Indiana, Pa., gave Scarnati's campaign $25,000 in February.
Likewise, it was business as usual when the Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Society PAC donated $25,000 in April to the campaign of House Majority Leader Todd Eachus (D., Luzerne). And in September, the Pennsylvania Service Employees International Union PAC gave Eachus' campaign $10,000.
Gov. Rendell, one of the most prodigious fund-raisers in Pennsylvania history, has accepted individual donations of as much as $100,000 in his campaigns. No longer a candidate, Rendell now is calling for donor limits.
There is a renewed push in Harrisburg for campaign-finance limits. Rep. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery) plans to introduce a bill this week that would set individual limits at $2,400 per election, and PAC contributions at $5,000. Rep. David Levdansky (D., Allegheny) has a similar bill pending.
Shapiro's legislation also would require more frequent reporting of contributions, ban no-bid government contracts for campaign contributors, and for the first time require disclosure of election activity by so-called 527 advocacy groups. It's the kind of reform that Pennsylvania has lacked for too long.
In the coming months, voters must let their legislators know that it's time for Pennsylvania to pass a campaign-finance law. Notwithstanding the acquittal last week of one former state representative on corruption charges, the legislature has earned its pitiful reputation.
Amid recurring political scandals and partisan gridlock, this legislature still insists on a system of unlimited campaign cash. It only fuels incumbency and abuses of power, not responsive government.