Op-ed by Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa

On the ballot this year are three critical seats on the state Supreme Court, one seat each on the Superior and Commonwealth courts as well as county row offices and municipal posts which influence how citizens are judged or represented.  These races are of statewide interest and local importance.

Despite the parochial nature of most municipal elections, there is a great likelihood that the election of state Supreme Court justices, Superior and Commonwealth Court judges and the contests for down-ballot offices this year will attract millions of dollars from outside interest groups and well-heeled out-of-state contributors.  These “investors” believe that they can influence state policy with their checkbooks. Much of that funding will be either unreported or under-reported.

Pennsylvanians deserve better.  Seats on the high court and other state courts, county offices and municipal offices should not be thought of as investment products. Voters should be wary of being swayed by outside influences and so-called “dark money.”  Sadly, there is too much outside influencing of elections and voters are blinded by the money cloak that shades their knowledge of candidates.  There is a better way.

I recently introduced legislation (Senate Bill 11) a measure that provides for campaign finance limitations, along with several other important reforms. The corrupting influence of money in politics is known objectively and anecdotally to most Pennsylvanians.  Our citizens are not alone in thinking that too much money in politics corrupts.  Nationally, according to a Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans support limits on campaign fundraising.

This election season has reminded all of us of the need to clean up the campaign finance system and our campaign finance laws.  We can do better than to hope that things get better.  We must act and build fairness and equality in our electoral system by providing reforms for how candidates raise money and disclose shadowy donors.

The measure I introduced will put these stringent restrictions in place:

  • Limit the expenditures and donations by and to a candidate, political action committee (PAC), political party or other person, for the purpose of influencing election;
  • Require disclosure of super PAC donors;
  • Require stockholder approval of expenditures on political activity.

Pennsylvania’s uncapped campaign finance rules, confounding Supreme Court decisions, and outside influence by national super PAC’s underscore what is wrong in our political system. Campaign expenses are increasing exponentially and driving elected officials and candidates to spend more and more time raising money instead of focusing on important issues or solving challenging problems.  Fact is, in Pennsylvania’s most recent gubernatorial election, candidates spent a combined $82 million dollars. Races for the state Senate are frequently rising above the $2 million benchmark.

We must act soon to restore confidence in our electoral process and shield our citizens from a bombardment by outside dollars and outside contributors who have no interest in quality, responsive government.  This can be accomplished by adopting tough, but fair, campaign finance reforms such as those prescribed in my legislation.