Two bills would make changes to Pa.’s notoriously lax campaign-finance laws

by Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA
Posted 4/4/24

The Pennsylvania House is advancing modest campaign-finance reforms during an election year that likely will see a torrent of hard-to-trace spending.

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Two bills would make changes to Pa.’s notoriously lax campaign-finance laws


This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

The Pennsylvania House is advancing modest campaign-finance reforms during an election year that likely will see a torrent of hard-to-trace political spending flood the state.

One bill would require legislative candidates to more frequently disclose which people and groups donate to their campaigns, while another would require so-called “dark money” organizations to disclose when they spend money to influence the outcome of Pennsylvania elections.

Collectively, the bills would make small changes to the state’s notoriously lax campaign finance laws, which put no limit on the amount of money donors can give candidates and political committees.

Supporters of stricter rules view the proposed bills as a start to creating a more transparent and accountable political system in a state where the legislature has failed to pass even uncontroversial changes in recent years.

“These aren’t giant steps forward, but they are steps forward,” said Michael Pollack, executive director of the good-government group March on Harrisburg.

Campaign finance reforms are popular. More than three in four registered voters — including majorities of Democratic and Republican voters — believe that money in politics is an issue and want to limit campaign donations and spending, according to an August 2023 Franklin & Marshall College poll.

Both bills recently passed a state House committee with bipartisan support and could receive floor votes in the coming weeks.

In an email, a spokesperson for state House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D., Montgomery), who sets the chamber’s daily voting calendar, said he backs both pieces of legislation.

“In the near future, the caucus will move additional legislation to [rein] in billionaires’ spending [of] dark money to exercise outsized influence in our elections,” the spokesperson, Elizabeth Rementer, added.

What the bills would do

One bill, sponsored by state Rep. Robert Freeman (D, Northampton), would require candidates General Assembly candidates to file two additional campaign finance reports during each election cycle — one six weeks before the primary election and one six weeks before the general election.

These reports show how much money each candidate has raised, where it came from, and the size of the donations. Campaigns must also broadly describe how they spent those dollars.

The bill passed the lower chamber’s State Government Committee unanimously in March.

Currently, legislative candidates must file five reports each election cycle: one at the start of the year that sums up the previous year’s fundraising and spending, one on the second Friday before the primary, one 30 days after the primary, one on the second Friday before the general election, and another 30 days after the general.

The current schedule makes the full scope of each candidate’s fundraising hard to grasp until just before election day.

Candidates for statewide office – like those for governor, attorney general, and Pennsylvania Supreme Court – are already required to file additional reports six weeks before the primary and general elections.

Freeman said the goal is to force information on political donors to “come out into the public realm” earlier.

“The real thrust of this legislation is to make sure that the public has greater transparency and understanding of who’s contributing through the course of the campaign,” Freeman said.

The other bill was introduced by state Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta and Jared Solomon, Philadelphia Democrats who are respectively running for auditor general and attorney general. It passed the State Government Committee 17-9, with two Republicans joining Democrats in voting yes.

It would require a category of federally registered nonprofits, 501(c)4 organizations, to report to the state any political spending, including the amount and intended target. These nonprofits are not required by federal law to reveal their donors, which is why good-government organizations call them “dark money” groups.

Such nonprofits can fund political ads and other work as long as such spending is not their “primary activity.” They cannot coordinate with candidates and must spend without input from the campaign they’re supporting or opposing — an arrangement known as an independent expenditure.