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Going Through The Motions 

We sit through City Council so you don't have to.

As City Clerk Linda Johnson-Wasler was reading a four-page letter from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl explaining why he was vetoing council's campaign-finance reform bill, the mayor was making more interesting comments on the South Side.

"Maybe they were interested in just passing something before they went on their summer vacation, just to pass it, to say that we were a city that had campaign-finance reform," said Ravenstahl, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in its online edition.

Council does occasionally ram-rod political legislation through. This bill, however, has been the focus of hearings, special meetings, arguments and multiple amendments since January; it's hard to see it as a spur-of-the-moment, pre-vacation move.

"The mayor had this targeted for veto the day it was passed," council President Doug Shields said. "We would have welcomed any amendments from the mayor's office at any point."

Since vetoing the measure, Ravenstahl has made some encouraging noises about wanting to make the existing campaign-finance system more transparent -- by posting contributions online, and limiting the ability of big-money contributors to get no-bid contracts.

Ravenstahl made a similar move a couple of months ago, when he vetoed a measure to cut the city's vehicle fleet and then cut the fleet himself -- absent, however, council controls that would have prevented him from adding to the fleet at any time.

In his letter, the mayor says reform should happen at a statewide level. He wrote that council's legislation was unfair to unions, whose contributions to candidates would be capped; he also claimed it handicapped city officials who later decide to run for statewide office; and he said that because private individuals can spend as much money on their campaigns as they like, the law would harm those that aren't wealthy, making public office more accessible to a "millionaire candidate."

Along those lines, Councilor Tonya Payne said she already has fund-raising handicaps that stem from being an African-American woman. "Why would I vote for something that would even further handicap me?" she asked.

Shields countered that the legislation would "level the playing field" by putting limits on everyone regardless of gender or race.

"As far as this idea that there aren't a bunch of rich people standing in line to get this job, I assure you, there are not," said Shields. "It's a lot easier to bang on the door of an elected official and just write a big check, as they've always done before.

"I keep hearing all this talk about 'what's good for me, what's good for me,'" Shields added. "But what I'm not hearing is what's good for democracy."

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