Inquirer Editorial: PACs' loophole

Posted: April 13, 2011

City officials need to get rid of a loophole in Philadelphia's campaign-finance law that lets deep-pocketed donors skirt contribution limits.

This legal end run nullifies the city's rules that prohibit a political-action committee from giving more than $10,600 to any individual candidate each year.

The campaign-giving limits, which Mayor Nutter supported as a City Council member, are designed to minimize the potential impact on city policy by any one donor or political committee.

But the loophole permits political committees backing a particular candidate to spread funds around to other committees, which then each donate the maximum to the same candidate.

The net effect is that one well-financed political committee can direct more of its funds toward a favored candidate. Even though the campaign-finance law bars this practice by wealthy individual donors, it left the loophole open for political committees.

The Daily News last week reported that the political-action committee of the local electricians' union has used the tactic to aid incumbent City Councilman Bill Green and former district attorney candidate Daniel McCaffery.

Voters shouldn't have to follow a complex money trail to find out who is really bankrolling a particular candidate. Beyond that, voters deserve solid assurance that no one group of donors holds too much sway with a candidate.

The obvious solution is to close the loophole, as proposed by a pending Council bill, which the mayor supports. Since this is Council's second stab at the issue, the legislation should leave no doubt that PACs are also banned from wheeling funds.

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