|January 15, 2021 09:23 AM
|Senator Jay Costa
|All Senate members
|Campaign Finance Reform
|In the near future, I am reintroducing legislation to provide comprehensive transparency and accountability in our political campaign finance system. The legislation will address the excessive corporate influence in our political system, from both at home and abroad on our elections, remove the opportunity to take personal advantage of campaign contributions, and protect the integrity and fairness of our electoral process. This legislation is nearly identical to SB 11 from last session.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, there has been a massive increase in corporate influence on elections through secret independent expenditures, or “dark money.” Since these contributing corporations remain undisclosed, the public stays in the dark about who a candidate’s donors are. What is more, it is nearly impossible to discern whether a corporate donor is significantly owned, in whole or in part, by a foreign national. Over a decade has passed since Citizens United, yet Pennsylvania has not yet addressed this very real threat to public confidence in elected officials and elections themselves. Recent news reports highlight why this reform is needed more than ever in our Commonwealth. My legislation will require the disclosure of expenses by these entities so that the public knows who is trying to influence our elections.
My legislation would also empower public requestors to challenge a campaign’s wrongful denial of access to its vouchers, which are supposed to be available for public inspection, before the Department of State. The Department would be provided with clear authority to enforce such access through penalties.
Additionally, media reports have shown examples of the use of credit cards and gift cards by campaign committees. This expenditure method is clearly used to obscure how political action committee money is being used from public view. In many cases, the expenses may be crossing the line into personal use, but because it is difficult or impossible to see what the expenses are, there is no accountability. To that end, my legislation will require credit card statements to be filed with campaign finance reports, ban the purchase of gift cards with PAC money, and define “personal purpose” so that the law is clear about the types of expenses that are prohibited. Requiring the filing of credit card statements will also prevent expenses from being aggregated and paid for all at once, enabling the public to see expenditures with even greater clarity.
The bill also would limit the donations and expenditures to and from candidates, political committees, political action committees, and political party committees or other persons for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election. Limits on contributions and on the amount of donations candidates can take in will level the political playing field and limit corporate influence on our political system.
Lastly, the bill would ban foreign corporate influence over our elections by prohibiting any corporation with a foreign owner holding at least 5% ownership (or foreign owners holding 20% ownership in the aggregate) from making independent expenditures, electioneering communication expenditures or contributions to political committees that make only independent expenditures (“super PACs”) for purposes of spending state and local elections in the Commonwealth.
The people deserve to be fully informed about a candidate’s financial backers. My bill would restore the people’s confidence that their elections are not bought and paid for by corporate entities, neither domestic nor foreign.
Co-sponsors of SB 11 included Senators A. Williams, Brewster, Santarsiero, Schwank, Haywood, Fontana, Tartaglione, Kearney, L. Williams, Boscola, Blake, Collett and Hughes.
Introduced as SB11