Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Pennsylvania Long Past Due for Reform

As Marc Levy of the Associated Press reports, Pennsylvania's Governor Ed Rendell's administration is "patching together" a series of proposals to limit donations to candidates for office. As recently as 2002, Rendell stated that contribution limits are "absolutely essential" and that:

"[He] would be disappointed if we didn't have something in place for 2006."

Currently, Pennsylvania has few to no restrictions on the amount of money that individuals and groups can give to a candidate. This anything-goes approach meant that, according to The Institute on Money in State Politics, just under $160 million poured into state races in Pennsylvania in 2002, including $76 million into the gubernatorial race. Ohio, a state of comparable population that does have contribution limits - although they are too high ($2,500 per individual per candidate) and have not stopped illegal funneling between county committees and candidates - saw slightly less than $91 million in contributions to state races, including $12.3 million to candidates for governor.

Pennsylvania has more state legislative districts than Ohio, which may account for some part of the discrepancy, but it does not explain why the the governor's race in Pennsylvania cost sixty million more dollars than the Ohio's. What better explains that discrepancy is the ability of wealthy interests to make unlimited donations to candidates in Pennsylvania, frequently in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Governor Ed Rendell himself received more than 40 contributions of $100,000 or more in the 2002 race. Who better to understand the role that big money plays in politics than he?

Money in politics is not necessarily a bad thing, but I imagine most folks in PA could think of better ways their government could spend those extra millions.

As governor, Rendell has a chance to talk to Pennsylvanians about why they need campaign finance reform (although I bet most already know) and some possible ways to restore the democratic rights to all those citizens in his state whose voice has been drowned out by the unchecked big money flowing into Pennsylvania politics.

When and if the politicians start addressing this issue, folks should watch out for sham reforms like Ohio's $2,500 limit, which may reduce the overall spending (generally a good thing), but which levels only the playing field between the rich and super-rich, while leaving regular people out in the cold.

For those Pennsylvanians out there who want to encourage their leaders to take this responsibility seriously, you can write to Rendell or find your legislator to let them hear your voice on the need for reforming the political system.

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