Reform era: It arrives Jan. 1 in the city, but only if enforced

Written by Susan Mannella on .

When the new year dawns Friday, a new era of transparency is set to start in Pittsburgh government, promised by new rules adopted last spring.

The burst of reform measures, pushed by the pressure of the primary election, were adopted by City Council and signed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in May, but most of them weren't scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1.

Any lobbyists who spend more than 30 hours in a three-month period will be required to register with the controller's office and pay a $100 fee. They must disclose their employer and any entities they represent. For the first year, Controller Michael Lamb's office will conduct reviews of reports by lobbyists, supplemented by surveys of public officials. Violators can be subject to fines. Also significant is the provision that requires firms bidding for city contracts to say whether they've hired a lobbyist to help get the work.

Another change caps campaign contributions, something that long has been in place for federal elections, but not for city or statewide races. Now, individual contributions for council candidates will be capped at $1,000 per election and at $2,000 per election for mayor or controller. Limits on political action committees will be double those amounts. Candidates have until Jan. 31 to file year-end reports, and the information will be available by the end of February on a searchable database at

The imposition of contribution caps on local candidates have been too long in coming, but Pittsburgh nonetheless is ahead of Pennsylvania, which shamefully imposes no limits on statewide candidacies.

Changes to the Ethics Code covering gifts valued at more than $100 that were enacted at the same time as the other reforms already are in effect, but so far only one submission has been posted online, as required. City officials need to do a thorough job of explaining to affected employees, typically those of assistant director or higher, what they are required to report.

All of these measures are intended to ensure that the actions taken by public officials are done with the best interests of all citizens in mind, without an eye toward those with the most effective lobbyists or the deepest pockets at election time. Diligent enforcement of these policies is the real key to whether they succeed or fail in holding government officials responsible.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.