Campaign finance history lesson

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Star Wars crawl

It bears mentioning that the Pittsburgh campaign finance law Bill Peduto is trying to hold over mayoral opponent Michael Lamb is actually a compromise measure between Peduto and the other guy running for mayor, ie, Luke Ravenstahl. And the "millionaire exception" at issue was favored by Ravenstahl himself.

Peduto's first attempt at finance limits was barely approved in 2008 by a 5-4 council vote. Ravenstahl vetoed it, in part because it allowed wealthy candidates to contribute up to $250,000 to their campaigns. (The council thought was that limiting self-contributions any further would be unconstitutional.)

The mayor lashed out at Peduto in his veto letter (in full here), noting his connection to one wealthy donor in particular. From Rich Lord's June 2008 story:

"Last year, the bill's sponsor received a $50,000 contribution from a wealthy private citizen whose business specializes in outsourcing work to Asia," [Ravenstahl] wrote, referring to a donation by William Benter, owner of Downtown-based Acusis Medical Transcription. "Assume for the moment that the contributor, instead, decided to seek higher office, running on an anti-labor platform and self-financing the entire campaign. Under the current bill, the labor community, whose funds are raised at the small dollar level from working men and women, and distributed through PACs, would be forced to find 50 PACs to contribute at the maximum levels proscribed by this bill to match the wealthy, anti-labor candidate."

More from that story:

The veto "smacks of corrupt, backward-thinking, old-school politics," Mr. Peduto said. He said he believed it was motivated by "pure self-interest. In other words, what is the next office after mayor that Luke Ravenstahl may be looking toward?"

Ouch. But a year later Ravenstahl introduced his own campaign finance measure and council unanimously approved it using contribution levels Peduto suggested. And this time Ravenstahl backed new "millionaire" language -- candidates could give $50K of their own money to a campaign and were not barred from giving more. But if a candidate goes a penny over the $50K without warning other candidates, the finance limits on everybody would be waived.

That is what Peduto is arguing today. He contends Lamb gave his campaign $52K. His petition says he "strongly prefer[s] that the contribution limits under the City Code remain in place for the Primary Election; however, the uncertainty regarding Lamb's excessive personal contributions . . . have raised substantial concerns by Petitioners as to whether the contribution limitations imposed by the City Code will continue to apply to the Primary Election."


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