Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Behind The Scenes: Local Campaign Finance Reform

The urgency seemed unusual. Mayor Ravenstahl's and County Executive Onorato's noon news conference on campaign finance reform was announced on an hour's notice. Their joint appearances together are usually announced farther in advance. This one -- held at the county elections office instead of their offices -- was not.

Whether unintended or by design, there was an interesting byproduct of their timing and location. It appears that none of the newspaper or TV reporters who cover Pittsburgh government as a weekly beat drew the assignment. That meant Tuesday's first wave of coverage didn't examine Mayor Ravenstahl's conversion on the issue. In June, Ravenstahl's four page veto ridiculed campaign finance reform passed by City Council as "fraught with problems".

Tuesday's joint news release arrived by e-mail from the county executive's office at at 10:43 AM and from the mayor's office at 11:01 AM. I e-mailed Onorato spokesman Kevin Evanto and Ravenstahl spokeswoman Joanna Doven separately, asking "What led to the one hour's notice for a story like this one?". Evanto promptly e-mailed back: "I was told at 10:30 this morning that we were having a news conference. I let you guys know as soon as I did." Doven did not respond to the question.

Today's Trib and PG stories flesh out the coverage.

The reforms Mayor Ravenstahl vetoed in June would have put much stricter limits on political contributions than his current version. City Council would have capped contributions from individuals at $2,000 per election and at $5,000 for political action committees. Onorato and Ravenstahl say their proposed contribution limits are $4,600 per individual each year and $10,000 per political action committee each year.

In his veto message, Mayor Ravenstahl wrote that the campaign finance reform bill would "have a chilling effect on the labor movement" and "inhibit the ability of challengers to mount successful campaigns against incumbents."

The Post-Gazette reported at the time:

"Mr. Ravenstahl raised $1.15 million in 2006 and 2007. At least $299,000 of that came from 25 supporters -- including individuals and labor union PACs -- that wrote checks of $10,000 or more."

Here are links to City Council's version and the mayor's veto of that bill.



EdHeath said...

When the Mayor vetoed the legislaiton last year, he complained specifically that campaign finance reform needed to be enacted on a statewide level, and the amounts available for city wide candidates should be larger than the amounts available for council. I, for one, would like to hear why those two specific arguments no longer apply. Especially since the Mayor has presented Council with a bill that he has promised to veto if the Council amends. Apparently we only thought the Bush administration was ending.

lek said...

So will the Mayor return any past donations that exceed his proposed limit?

Just wondering...


Bram Reichbaum said...

I just would like to know why they think campaign finance reform is needed. That was missing in the coverage I'd seen.

Anonymous said...

Was the news conference held down by the bin room? You know the same place where absentee ballots like to disappear from? Or what it held in the Mark's office? The place where he disobeys the county policy of letting residents look at absentee ballots?

Elections reform from the weasels. What a good laugh.