Pa. lawmaker, advocates call for U.S. constitutional amendment that could end up banning dark money

Produced By: - June 7, 2022 1:53 pm

Here are three numbers to keep in mind: $99 million; $3.5 billion, and $18 million.

They are, respectively, the money that was spent in Pennsylvania’s nationally watched U.S. Senate primary; the total amount of untraceable “dark money” that super PACs pumped into the 2020 elections, and the total amount that Pennsylvania’s wealthiest resident spent to influence the outcome of the commonwealth’s 2022 primary election.

That data, compiled by the good government group American Promise, helps build the case for amending the U.S. Constitution to give states, currently restricted by decades of court precedent, a freer hand to regulate campaign finance rules within their borders, the group said during a Tuesday news conference in the Capitol rotunda.

“Pennsylvania is not a playground for billionaires and the consultant class,” Bill Cortese, its executive director, said. “The people of Pennsylvania should determine who leads them.”

So far, 22 states have passed resolutions calling on Congress to pass the amendment, which must clear the U.S. House and Senate by a two-thirds vote. Thirty-eight states must ratify a proposed amendment before it can become a permanent part of the nation’s foundational document.

The proposed amendment would not impose campaign finance rules, rather it would give states the leeway to fix or amend their existing laws, backers noted.

In a Tuesday memo seeking support for such a resolution in Pennsylvania, state Rep. Meghan Schroeder, R-Bucks, observed that “the only proper remedy” to the nearly unchecked spending on campaigns “is a constitutional one.

“For years, courts have chipped away at the ability of elected officials to regulate outside political spending, finally resulting in a total constitutional prohibition,” Schroeder wrote. “While we retain the authority to regulate political giving directly to candidates and campaigns, courts have ruled that spending that takes place outside of that system, where disclosure rules and limits do not apply, is protected by the Constitution and therefore no legislator can seek to regulate it.”

And while she’s “sure that we all have lots of ideas about how we should regulate independent political spending – and I’m sure there are lots of disagreements to be had,” Schroeder wrote. “However, we can’t even begin to have those conversations unless the Constitution is amended to undo the actions that our activist courts have taken in removing our authority as elected officials to oversee elections.”

The Pennsylvania effort also has attracted the support of David Black, the former CEO of the Greater Harrisburg Chamber/CREDC, and former state Rep. Jennifer Mann, an Allentown Democrat.

In the decade since she left the General Assembly, Mann said she’s watched as the polarization of the 253-member body, driven by millions of dollars in campaign spending, has only deepened. The result is that compromise has become nearly impossible, Mann said in a video message played during Tuesday’s news conference.

“The system today discourages members from working together,” Mann said. ” … We need to ensure that people aren’t discouraged from running for office because they can’t raise the money.”

And constituents, she added, also need to feel comfortable approaching their elected leaders with their problems.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.

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