State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

The State House Sound Bites Podcast is now called State of the State and is a part of PA Post, a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization to hold Pennsylvania’s government accountable to its citizens.

Between a website and a hard place: On campaign finance rules

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 16, 2014 4:58 AM
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If you ask any of the Democratic candidates for governor, Pennsylvania's campaign finance rules are atrocious. If you ask the sitting governor, Republican Tom Corbett, the wells of donor and financial information are a click away, and need no reforming.

The field of gubernatorial candidates shrank once more last week with the exit of John Hanger. His parting words included a diatribe on the effect of big spending in political campaigns.

Pennsylvania's minimal contribution limits put it in league with six other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Unions and corporations are barred from giving directly to candidates, though the ban was struck down recently by a federal judge.

The distinction had kept the commonwealth from joining the ranks of four states that have no campaign contribution limits whatsoever.

Corbett supports Pennsylvania's campaign finance laws as they are. Campaign spokesman Billy Pitman pointed to the governor's work to make the state's campaign finance website more "user-friendly."

The governor isn't getting any pushback from his primary challenger.

"No limit on free speech. I like Pennsylvania campaign finance laws," said Bob Guzzardi, a Republican political activist tilting at Corbett's seat in the GOP primary (he added that he's not taking donations, choosing instead to campaign with $10,000 of his own money).

Democratic candidates, however, have largely denounced the state's campaign finance rules.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz said she supports modeling the state's campaign contribution limits on the federal limits, increasing campaign finance reporting requirements, and making an "improved" state campaign finance database.

Three Democratic candidates support public financing of statewide campaigns.

"I think we've got very good people competing and playing by bad rules," said state Treasurer Rob McCord, at a February debate in Harrisburg featuring four of the five current Democratic candidates.

At the same forum, Katie McGinty agreed. "I'm spending probably about 80 percent of my time on the fundraising piece of the equation," said the former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary. "And I feel zero percent good about that, and we absolutely need to change that."

York businessman Tom Wolf's policy paper details his support for a public financing program for statewide elections. It would be funded by voluntary contributions from state taxpayers. His plan would also include limiting individuals' campaign contributions to $5,000 a year.

Jack Wagner, the former state auditor general who declared his candidacy last month, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

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