I don’t entirely disagree with Colleen’s post earlier today on using the proposed gift ban legislation to further foment campaign finance reform in Pennsylvania. However, I do think that there are under-appreciated aspects Pennsylvania’s “wild west” system of funding campaigns.
Pennsylvania’s lack of caps on individual contributions for state level candidates gets a lot of negative attention. However, I don’t think our state system of limitless contributions is necessarily a bad thing, and here are my quick thoughts on why I don’t mind that particular aspect of our “broken” system:
At the federal level, wealthy donors can only contribute $2,600 to candidates per election cycle (so, $2,600 for the primary portion of the year and $2,600 for the general, or $5,200 per year). Because of those limits and the current state of federal campaign finance law after Citizens United, wealthy donors are incentivized to make their large contributions to Super PACs where they can better keep their donations in the dark and out of public scrutiny.
In Pennsylvania, however, wealthy donors can and do give vast amounts (sometimes $100,000+ contributions) directly to candidates, as we have seen in the gubernatorial race. And because those donations must be disclosed, we know exactly where the candidate is getting their money from—in contrast to independent expenditures by dark money groups.
In essence, we can hold Pennsylvania candidates more accountable. If you’re like me and think that money will make it into the political sphere no matter what, we should at least have a system where we can hold candidates’ feet to the fire when people with vast sums of money send them blockbuster checks.
That’s how we know about Corbett’s crony corporate contributors, and it is how we can figure out which special interest groups are going in big for each Democratic candidate.
I’m not embarassed to say that I agree with Mitt Romney on this issue.
While on the campaign trail in 2012, Romney was asked about the ads put out by Super PACs that showed him in a negative light. Romney said “I would like to get rid of the campaign finance laws that were put in place” and “let people make contributions they want to make to campaigns, let campaigns then take responsibility for their own words and not have this strange situation we have.”
Because Pennsylvania allows such large individual contributions, we don’t have the “strange situation” of complete unaccountability through massive independent expenditures that we have at the federal level.
Is it perfect? Hell no! Never has been, never will be. I’m only suggesting that Pennsylvania’s “broken” system might only need a few fixes instead of being thrown out entirely.
[I’d be curious to hear from campaigners/practitioners who have fundraising experience at both the federal and state level. Comment below, or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org]