State of corruption: It's time Pennsylvania capped political donations

Written by Susan Mannella on .

When it comes to money driving politics, Pennsylvania is ground zero. That's based on the sorry fact that this state is one of only 11 that puts no limits on campaign contributions to state and local political candidates.

Someone from Pennsylvania may donate no more than $2,400 per election to Barack Obama or John McCain running for president. But the sky's the limit if the same person wants to write a check to Tom Corbett or Dan Onorato running for governor.

That's outrageous and potentially corrupting -- and it ought to end.

Various proposals have been offered over the years to put sensible limits on contributions made to Pennsylvania campaigns by individuals and political action committees, but all have come to naught. Last summer state Rep. David Levdansky, a Democrat from Forward, introduced House Bill 1825, which would not only cap donations but also enhance the reporting on money and contributors in politics.

Did the House leadership move on his bill, even in a cynical bid to restore public confidence in a Legislature wracked by indictments and scandal? Of course not. The measure sits, as if waiting to die, in the State Government Committee.

Now a bill with bipartisan sponsorship has been unveiled in the other chamber. Sens. Jane Earll, an Erie Republican, and Jay Costa, a Forest Hills Democrat, announced Senate Bill 1269 on March 11. Their plan would make a fine companion to the Levdansky proposal, although the details would have to be reconciled.

The Senate proposal calls for its own sensible limits on contributions per election:

* From individuals, $500 to someone running for the Legislature, county court or any county or local office and $2,400 to anyone running for statewide office;

* From political action committees, $5,000 to any candidate.

* From political party-related committees, $100,000 in maximum total contributions to candidates running for the Legislature, county court or any county or local office and $500,000 in total donations to a person running statewide.

A far-reaching provision would attack the "pay-to-play" culture by barring any person who has a contract with the General Assembly from raising money for a legislative candidate.

Reasonable people can debate what the final contribution limits should be, but it's time Pennsylvania put a ceiling on how much cash deep-pocketed individuals and well-heeled special interests can give to an office seeker. If the Legislature expects to recover from this period of scorn, upheaval and contempt, it must put muscle and leadership behind reforms like this.

With at least two proposals on the subject in the General Assembly, there's no excuse for failing to do the job this year.


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