Components of a Strong Campaign Finance Reform Bill

Common Cause Pennsylvania believes the following provisions should be included in any effective campaign finance reform bill. These are based on our experience with the state’s current laws, and successful reform measures passed in other states.

Contribution Limits:  For individual donors, Common Cause Pennsylvania believes “per election” limits not exceeding $1,000 to candidates running for legislative, county and local offices, and $2,400 to statewide candidates (same as the limits to federal candidates) are needed to protect the public interest. (Some states have limits as low as $250 for non-statewide candidates.) Furthermore, limits on total contributions to all candidates per year for individuals and PACs is an important safeguard to employ as well. Common Cause/PA suggests a $25,000 per year per individual. Total annual aggregate limits for PACs contributions should be a low number multiple of the individual limits (not more than 3 or 4).

Two-tiered PAC Limits: Some states allow two different kinds of PACs— small-donor PACs to which donors can only give $50 or $100, and large donor PACs to which donors can give substantially more. However, the power of small donors is amplified by allowing small-donor PACs to give a multiple of what large-donor PAC’s are permitted to give candidates. CCPA has endorsed such a system for Pennsylvania, with small donor PACs being permitted to give double what a regular PAC is permitted.

Better Disclosure: The state’s current database of campaign contributions is not user-friendly. To guarantee compliance with any CFR bill that is passed, the state must provide a fully-searchable user-friendly database on a publicly accessible website. Also require organizations’ names to be in their PACs” names.

Off-year reporting:  CCPA has proposed adding two reporting periods for candidates running for the legislature (equaling reporting for statewide candidates) during election years, but the biggest reporting gap right now is in non-election years, when candidates are not required to file at all. CCPA urges remedying this flaw in disclosure by requiring quarterly reporting for elected officials and candidates during the years in which they are not running for office.

Ban on no-bid contracts: Prohibiting campaign donors who give above a certain amount from receiving no-bid contracts would curtail some of the worst instances of “pay to play.” A ban on current government contractors from making donations to candidates for offices overseeing their contracts also is needed.

Ban on candidates using campaign funds for personal expenses: Reviews of some candidates’ expenditures indicate they appear to cross the line between the political and the personal use of campaign funds. Campaign accounts cannot be permitted to be a laundering mechanism that permits special interest to donate funds that candidates then use as a tax-free way to enhance their personal lifestyles. Specific restrictions are required on campaign fund utilization.

Better reporting of expenditures: Candidates should not be allowed to list “Visa” or other credit cards as a the vendor on expense reports, and instead should be required to identify the actual provider of the service/product purchased with campaign funds. Also, political parties and other committees must be required to identify the amount of funds that benefited each candidate rather than lumping them all together under “printing” or “advertising.”

Meaningful penalties for campaign finance violations:   Real reform requires penalties for violations. The cap on fines for failure to disclose must be abolished so that candidates/officials don’t just pay the fine instead of disclosing. Meaningful fines must be enacted for violations of contribution limits.  Common Cause Pennsylvania recommends treble damages so that the penalty better responds to the violation.

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