Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Pittsburgh, PA Proposal to Limit Campaign Contributions

Pennsylvania is one of thirteen states that do not limit the amount of money an individual can give to a candidate for state office. Its second largest city, Pittsburgh, also has no limits on the amount of money a person can contribute to a candidate for city office, although that may change under a proposal by Councilman William Peduto.

Peduto has proposed legislation which would institute caps on individual contributions to candidates at $2,000 per four-year election cycle; on contributions by political action committees (PACs) at $4,000 per four-year cycle. The limits would apply to races for mayor, city council, and controller.

$2,000 is still a ton of money for most folks, even spread out over four years. Two grand over four years is better than the current federal limits, established by the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act at $2,000 per election, which means $2,000 for the primary and $2,000 for the general election per person, per candidate.

Some pols and reformers would have us think they are doing democracy justice by agreeing to any limit, especially when some folks can afford to give millions of dollars to candidates whom they would like to see in office. "Two grand isn't so bad when you think about what it could be," they say.

This argument is disingenuous, to say the least. With $2,000 limits, a small number of wealthy people are still able to provide the same kind of support that a much larger number of regular folks can. The candidates that run for office are thereby heavily skewed towards representing the interests of the wealthy few.

So it is not clear that Pittsburgh's proposed limits will do much beyond leveling the playing field for rich folks against super-rich folks. It doesn't mean that limits won't work; rather that for limits to be effective, they must take into consideration the ability of average Americans to give.
Taking into consideration all the national, state, and local races you would like to have some say in, how much can you afford?

That limits are under discussion does show some evidence that people are recognizing the need to level the playing field in our democracy, so that our elections are contests of ideas and talents, not wallets and bank accounts.

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