© 2017 Commonwealth Commonsense

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The Problem


Pennsylvania is virtually like the Wild West when it comes to money in politics.  There are no limits on individual, party or PAC contributions in state elections, and the result is that Pennsylvania elections are awash in money. 


According to Franklin L. Kury, a former state legislator, “In the 2009-2010 session the average raised by a winning candidate for the Pennsylvania House was $119,173…For the Senate the average raised by a winning candidate was $323,052.  More than four times what [he] spent in 1976.”  The money in state politics has only continued to skyrocket; from 2014 to 2016, state House, Senate, row office, judicial, and gubernatorial candidates got $267,000,000 in contributions.


Only three states have more money flowing through their state elections: Illinois, California, and Texas—each more populated than Pennsylvania.  All our neighboring states, including New York, don’t have nearly as much campaign cash flooding into their political system.


How can we expect our state government to stay responsive to the average voter when there is so much money from special interests funding the campaigns of the state’s elected officials?

The Current Process


Pennsylvania is one of only 12 states that permit unlimited contributions from individuals to candidates. In other states, contribution limits vary by office being sought and length of time, anywhere from $500 to $44,000 per year or per election cycle.  The only restriction on contributions that the Pennsylvania imposes is the technical prohibition of donations from corporations and unincorporated associations (such as labor unions).  However, this law is easily and frequently circumvented by  corporations and labor unions that form PACs and soliciting employees or members to contribute (and LLCs, LPs, and other business entities that are not legally corporations, can still make unlimited contributions.)

  • Campaign finance laws in Pennsylvania dictate that individuals can make unlimited contributions to candidates for office and ballot measure campaigns. 

  • Corporations and unions may not contribute to candidates, but these groups can make unlimited contributions to ballot measure campaigns and make independent expenditures.  Many corporations and union contribute to campaign through related Political Action Committees (PACs).

  • Super PACs are unable to contribute to candidates and ballot measures.

  • Contributions in Pennsylvania are defined more broadly than just cash or check, including gifts, payment of debts, purchasing tickets, granting discounts not available to others, and use of “any valuable thing” for the purpose of influencing any election.

  • Once a contribution is received, candidates and/or their authorized committees must file regular reports that include information about contributors including name, address, occupation, and name of employer for individual contributors giving more than $250 in a reporting period (occupation and employer are not required for aggregate contributions between $50 and $250).

Possible Solutions

There are many models in place across the United States.  Whether it’s simply matching the federal contribution limits or a set in a neighboring state, implementing some basic limits on campaign contributions would stem the unfair influence of big money on Pennsylvania politics.