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Friday, May 13, 2011

Peduto defends campaign-finance law

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2011 at 12:37 PM

City councilor Bill Peduto, who led the fight for council's suddenly-controversial camapign-finance ordinance, has sent his colleagues a memo defending the measure. And to prove Peduto ally Bruce Kraus and others have been correctly interpreting the law -- despite accusations to the contrary -- the memo offers a useful historic perspective on the bill's creation.

"During the past few weeks," Peduto begins, "the public has been barraged with unethical and illegitimate statements regarding the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2009."

At the heart of those statements is this: Kraus, along with fellow councilor Patrick Dowd and council President Darlene Harris, has been accused of accepting political contributions that exceed the limits set by the 2009 ordinance. For city council races, the law sets a maximum contribution at $1,000 per individual, and $2,000 from a political committee.

As I started pointing out a week ago, however, the city ordinance sets those limits per election -- and treats the spring primary and the November general as separate elections. Read that way, the law would seem to allow candiates to double up on contributions. 

Peduto's memo quotes from council testimony to prove that this is, indeed, the correct reading.

At an April 29, 2009 post-agenda meeting, Peduto said the following:

Page two of the amendments changes the limits to be based per election instead of by election cycle, so it gives you the ability as a district candidate to get $1,000 per primary and $1,000 per general from an individual. For citywide elections those figures are doubled, so $2,000 per primary from an individual, $2,000 per general from an individual. This is based on federal election law covering elections of senators and congressmen. The administration has met with my office about these amendments on several occasions.

Gabe Mazefsky, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's policy director, told Peduto that the mayor's office "generally support[s]" that approach.

At this point, it seems pretty obvious that "doubling up" is permitted by the law. It's consistent with the federal approach, as noted here yesterday, and Peduto's memo suggests, it also appearas consistent with the legislative record. 

But what none of this addresses -- becuase the ordinance itself doesn't address it -- is the timing of these contributions. I mean, the bill says you can take $1,000 for a primary, and $1,000 for the election: It's not unreasonable for people to think you can only accept the second $1,000 once the primary is over. The bill is silent on that question, and as I wrote yesterday, federal law goes much further in answering it. So it's no wonder if people are confused here -- or if political foes seek to capitalize on that confusion. 

Peduto's memo also goes after criticism -- first reported by Early Returns last week -- that the bill is unenforceable.

"[C]laims against the enforceability of the law," the memo contends, are "a dishonest attempt to cloud the issue." In fact, some of the bill's enforcement provisions are empty -- though as the memo correctly notes, that's no fault of the city.

Ravenstahl and county executive Dan Onorato had insisted that for any campaign-finance reform to pass, both the city and county would have to agree to it. And as Peduto's memo notes, back in 2009, county officials were supportive of the city legislation: Assuming the county would pass its own version of the bill, the city ordinance delegated enforcement of city rules to the county's election overseers. But the county never did get around to passing its own legislation ... meaning that county agencies have no jurisdiction.

Even so, Peduto's memo notes, "the legislation does contain enforcement policy." Under the law, any Pittsburgh resident can file a lawsuit against a candidate whose fundraising runs afoul of its provisions.

That's true, of course -- though the bill's own history suggests that Peduto's first choice would be to have a government agency monitoring compliance as well. And really, nothing in the memo speaks to the concerns I raised in yesterday's turgid essay -- that in the absence of a regulatory infrastructre to support the bill, the city should tweak its rules so citizens have an easier time tracking finances on their own.

But of course, the people complaining loudest aren't suggesting improvements to the bill. If anything, they are trying to scrap it entirely -- as councilor Ricky Burgess is trying to do

Those raising a stink about campaign-finance, Peduto's memo concludes, "are making false claims about their political opponents and casting doubt on a law that passed with unanimous support of City Council and was developed while working closely with the Mayor’s staff."

That harmony was, it seems, too good to last.

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