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Pa. House committee advances campaign finance reform legislation


John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 19, 2024

The state House State Government Committee advanced a pair of bills on Tuesday that would reform Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws by expanding reporting requirements for independent expenditures and for candidates running for the state Legislature. 

House Bill 1472, which is sponsored by state Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia), would amend the Pennsylvania election code to require the reporting of campaign finance reports from civic leagues and 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations that independently advocate for or against candidates for office.

“I think it is fair to say, though sad to say, that as it relates to campaign finance, Pennsylvania is the wild, wild west,” said state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), who co-sponsors the legislation, “where people are able to spend exorbitant amounts of money putting their finger on the scale and if you look at current state law, they can use so many different legal maneuvers to avoid scrutiny of those donations, and I think that that’s wrong.”

Kenyatta added that with Pennsylvania expected to be the center of the political universe, voters should know who is behind the advertisements they will see. He called the proposal a “commonsense piece of good government legislation.”

“I’m just going to put it into one basic sentence,” said state Rep. Tarah Probst (D-Monroe). “Follow the money and you consider the source and it’s got to end. One person can’t try to dictate an election. This needs to stop and I will be supporting this bill.”

State Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford), who is the Republican chair of the committee, described HB 1472 as an “interesting bill,” but argued it could not be done legally based on the U.S.  Supreme Court ruling in Americans For Prosperity v. Bonta, arguing that it would require the Constitution to be amended for it to be legal.

“If we did pass House Bill 1472 and it became law it would likely lead to a lot of litigation because the U.S. Supreme Court just said that donors don’t have to be disclosed,” Roae said. 

In that 2021 decision, the Supreme Court found that a California law compelling non-profits to disclose donors to the state violated the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of association.

Kenyatta disagreed with Roae’s interpretation, adding that Pennsylvania could pass legislation like HB 1472 that could “break new ground” and have the Supreme Court look at the case.

“It is your right to hang your opposition to this bill on misinterpreted Supreme Court rulings,” Kenyatta said. “But I think that what voters need to understand here in Pennsylvania is that a vote against this bill is a vote for dark money and a vote for trying to obscure who is providing huge amounts of financial support to candidates for office and to oppose or support amendments to our Constitution. This is a pretty big deal.”

Roae said that there was a hearing on this topic last session and reiterated that the bill can’t be enacted due to the Supreme Court decision. 

“It would involve expensive litigation,” Roae said, if the bill were passed. “I will be siding with the U.S. Constitution.”

The bill passed by a 17-9 vote out of the committee. 

House Bill 1220, sponsored by state Rep. Robert Freeman (D-Northampton), would amend Pennsylvania’s Election Code to require candidates for the state House and Senate to file expense reports on or before the sixth Tuesday prior to the election, in addition to filing campaign expense reports on the second Friday before the election.

This legislation would follow the same guidelines that candidates for statewide office in Pennsylvania have to follow.

“One of the problems with our current structure of reporting is by only having the second Friday before the election report, it’s a very truncated period of time,” Freeman said. “The report itself doesn’t lend itself to get widely known in the course of an election. So many, many people in the public don’t really get a chance to understand who’s supporting who, where contributions are coming from, where the base of support is for a particular candidate.”

Freeman argued that the legislation would give the general public more time to see who is backing candidates for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. 

HB 1220 passed unanimously out of the state government committee.

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This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.