Skip Navigation

Transparency and accountability: Pa. lawmakers target dark money in campaigns

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
A file photo of campaign finance records

 Sara Simon / Spotlight PA

A file photo of campaign finance records


Correction: This article has been updated to remove an example of political giving that is not related to the type of giving being targeted by proposed legislation. 


In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for corporations and nonprofits to make unlimited hidden contributions to political causes.

While Pennsylvania cannot override this federal decision, one state lawmaker believes it can make those entities be more transparent with their spending.

“We have enormous amounts of money in the political arena,” Rep. Joe Webster, D-Montgomery, said. “A lot of it is dark money that we don’t really know who it’s coming from or what the intentions are. And it creates an enormous amount of influence and – I would argue – in the wrong directions in our political system.”

Webster said such influence prevents bills – such as ones creating universal background checks for firearm purchases – from passing and is hurting Pennsylvanians in the process.

“In a democracy where ninety-some percent of the population is in favor of something, how is it we can’t do that?” he said. “There’s some other influence involved.”

He is proposing legislation that would require the disclosure of corporate expenditures on elections, require receipts and credit card statements be filed in campaign finance reports, limit donations, prohibit foreign-owned entities from contributing to campaigns or other influencing groups, and allow for leftover funds to be donated.

Webster’s bill is a companion to one introduced by Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny.

Costa has introduced this legislation in multiple sessions only for it to die in committee as the Senate has had a GOP majority since the 1990s.

Costa said these types of contributions hurt the democratic process.

“I think it really impacts folks’ ability to participate in the electoral process,” he said. “It’s frustrating to a lot of people. I just think the influence of money changes the way our elections are held now.”

Costa said campaign finance reform is a major priority for him and his caucus that they will continue to pursue even if they don’t overcome the Republican’s six-seat majority.

Matt Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners, a membership association that works with political action committees to fund political causes. 

Asked for comment on Webster’s legislation, he said private gifting is a staple of democracy.

“We’ve seen too often how people are threatened or harassed because they support one cause or another,” he said. “Every Pennsylvanian has the right to support the causes he or she believes in without fear of government retribution.”

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Regional & State News

Here's how police in Lancaster County get rid of unwanted guns [Lancaster Watchdog]