Inquirer Editorial: Good measures for bad reasons

Councilman Bill Green
Councilman Bill Green
Posted: February 15, 2013

A pair of bills recently introduced in City Council are welcome chances to close two troubling loopholes in the city's campaign-finance laws.

Although the 2015 mayoral and other local races may seem a long way off, preparations are under way, including the early-and-often ramping up of fund-raising. The new campaign-finance proposals are a potentially beneficial by-product of the already heated competition among possible mayoral candidates, including Councilmen Bill Green and James Kenney.

Following a WHYY report that Green legally accepted $30,000 from beverage millionaire Harold Honickman last year, Kenney introduced a bill to ensure that no incumbent elected official accepts such a large donation again. The legislation would close a loophole in city law that allows incumbents to accept huge donations if they have not technically declared that they are seeking a particular office. Once they declare, they are subject to contribution limits of $2,900 for individuals and $11,500 for political action committees.

On the day Kenney introduced his bill, Green introduced his own campaign-finance legislation. Green's bill would force political committees attempting to influence Philadelphia voters to disclose the identity of their donors. Right now, shadowy groups can spend a fortune on election-related advertising, usually negative, without revealing their sources of funding. Voters would be more capable of analyzing such ads if they knew who was paying for them.

The Green bill could theoretically crimp the style of a state legislator who decides to run for mayor, such as state Sen. Anthony Williams (D., Phila.), a prodigious fund-raiser who has considered seeking the office before. Under the state's loose rules, which lack the city's tough contribution limits, Williams raised $3.8 million from one pro-school-voucher group for an unsuccessful run for governor in 2010. The councilman's proposal could limit that kind of rampant spending, which also marred last fall's presidential race.

In addition to the Council proposals, the city Board of Ethics is fine-tuning and clarifying some of the city's campaign-finance regulations.

Kenney's bill may well be designed to trim Green's fund-raising advantage, and Green's could be meant to save face in the wake of the reported Honickman donation. But none of that matters much if the legislation improves the city's campaign-finance laws. Restricting campaign donors' ability to influence the government helps ensure that politicians are working for all the city's residents, not just those with fat wallets. Both of these bills deserve Council's approval.

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