Philadelphia City Council ponders campaign contribution reform

Philadelphia City Council ponders campaign contribution reform

Author: Taylor Allen/Wednesday, June 6, 2018/Categories: Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s City Council’s Committee on Law and Government Tuesday discussed the possibility of shifting campaign contribution limits from an annual basis to an election cycle basis.

According to Philadelphia Board of Ethics, shifting the campaign contributions to an election cycle basis is the most common model nationally.

Under current law, an individual may give up to $3,000 per calendar year. Under that same law, a political committee may give $11,900 per calendar year.

If the bill were to pass, a single person could donate up to $5,000 and a political committee would be limited to $20,000 per election cycle. For this bill, an election cycle is defined as the four-year period between general elections for the office. This means that donors and campaigns would only have to comply with one contribution limit during a four-year period instead of four. The bill also explicitly prohibits donors from funneling additional contributions through other people.

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics supports this initiative and said it would help craft the bill.

The main concern raised about the bill centered on whether the proposed legislation promotes fairness.

Councilman-at-large David Oh was critical of the bill as written. He doesn’t like that it puts more limitations on individual contributions, because according to Oh, regular people who would like to run typically rely on individual contributions and don’t have political action committees to rely on for additional funds.

“Fundamentally what I believe in is a level playing field,” Oh said. “That means an average person can run against an incumbent.”

Oh said that he would support the bill if it is amended to address his concerns.

Michael Cooke, director of enforcement for the Board of Ethics, recommended that the council ask voters if this is something that they would want.

“The board supports putting this question to the voters of Philadelphia,” Cook said.

Chairman Councilman at-Large William Greenlee did not dispute that but questioned if people were educated enough in the technicalities to make such a decision.

“People don’t know the nuances of public finance,” Greenlee said.

Common Cause of Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan grassroots organization aiming to strengthen citizen participation in democracy, supports the bill but also said more needs to be added in terms of execution.

According to Common Cause of Pennsylvania, both Albuquerque and Seattle adopted new policies of campaign financing - public campaign financing - because it was something citizens voted for.

Micah Sims, the executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania, also criticized the city for not following the governor’s executive order to get new voting machines by December 2019.

The last action was the bill’s introduction in March 2018.