Disclosure of campaign contributions is important, but no matter how timely and complete disclosure is, it will not be enough if Pennsylvanians really intend to take back ownership of their elections and government. Disclosure reveals, but does not end the anti-democratic pattern of campaign funding. Overt action to level the playing field is essential if we are to change the political culture of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s now is one of just eleven states that do not limit the amount of money that individuals and PACs can give to candidates. So while most other states have some basic protections against auctioning elections and public policies to the highest bidder, the sky is the limit for the power of political money in Pennsylvania. This “tyranny of the campaign dollar”, as former Governor Casey put it, dominated by large givers and PACs, undermines public confidence, discourages participation by individuals in the electoral process, and deprives citizens of democratic representation. As the Kettering Foundation’s landmark study found, citizens believe “that campaign contributions seem to determine political outcomes more than voting.”
The reality of the influence of large contributors and big givers is not far from this perception.
Common Cause Pennsylvania studies of the massive campaign contributions by the gambling and gas drilling industries expose a correlation between political contributions and public policy outcomes. With no limits on political contributions Pennsylvania has experienced ever- increasing contributions to and expenditures by political campaigns; 90% or more of legislative primaries being uncontested in any given year; a quarter of legislative general elections are uncontested; over 90% of all incumbents are re-elected in most years; amassed campaign funds are being used to fund other candidates’ campaigns, or for personal purposes of the candidate (the equivalent of special interests stuffing money in elected officials pockets); appointees to state boards and commissions often are key campaign contributors, and firms that win contracts often have PACs and employees who give sizeable campaign contributions. All of these factors make our elections less competitive, and our public officials more beholden to their donors than their constituents.
To remedy these problems CCPA is working to put incumbents and challengers on a more equal footing, and balance the political speech of regular citizens and special interests by
- Establishing relatively low limits on the amount of money individuals, PACs and parties can contribute to political campaigns;
- Preventing circumvention of limits by restricting candidates and other entities to one campaign committee each, and banning inter-committee transfers of funds, donor bundling, and PACs sharing officers and staff;
- Implementing other essential public safeguards such as banning lobbyist contributions within 15 days of a legislative session day, banning contributions from officials and PACs of regulated industries; and limiting candidates’ acceptance of contributions to the year in which s/he is running for office, as well as banning post-election eve contributions.
- Restricting contributions from business partnerships in the same manner as for incorporated entities; and
- Specifying that county and local governments are authorized to establish contribution limits for offices under their jurisdiction.