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CAMPAIGN FINANCE TRANSPARENCY

The Problem
 

Pennsylvania routinely fares poorly on measures of accountability and transparency in government, ranking at or near the bottom of several national scorecards. Because we have no state campaign contribution limits, wealthy donors and special interests can exert an outsize influence on Pennsylvania politics. To make matters worse, weak disclosure requirements and a user-unfriendly campaign finance reporting website make it difficult for citizens and journalists see where much of this money comes from or how much there is. The Keystone State is notably tied for 2nd worst in the country in the National Institute for Money in Politics 2014 scorecard on essential disclosure requirements for independent spending.

The Current Process
 

While Pennsylvania aligns with or exceeds best practices used by other states in a few areas such as the level of detailed information reported on political contributors, many elements of Pennsylvania’s campaign finance requirements are not conducive to transparency.  For example:

  • Unlike the majority of states, Pennsylvania does not require campaign finance reports to be submitted electronically, which reduces data uniformity and the timely and accessible publication of reports. As of 2012, only one-third of campaign finance reports submitted by candidates or committees were filed electronically in Pennsylvania. 

  • Pennsylvania's campaign finance website does not allow for easy navigation and download of the finance reports that do exist, making it prohibitively difficult to conduct broad analyses of campaign finance data or even to effectively search for specific donors or recipients.

Possible Solutions

Commonwealth Commonsense believes there are easy-to-implement solutions for Pennsylvania that can set a new national standard for campaign finance data collection, organization, analysis, and visualization. We see campaign finance disclosure and transparency as the place to start, and that's why we are advocating both for legislation requiring state campaigns to file their campaign finance reports electronically (SB346/HB859) and for significant upgrades to Pennsylvania's campaign finance disclosure website.