Labor opposes city campaign contribution limits

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Nine out of 10 speakers at a public hearing today on proposed city of Pittsburgh campaign finance reform favored the idea, but the lone opponent was a representative of organized labor, a powerful political player.

"The bill limits the voice of the working class by restricting the amounts that can be given by political action committees," said Dave Vinski, of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation, who said he was speaking on behalf of Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea. Unions often form PACs to contribute to candidates that they favor.

"Creating limits will stymie transparency," Mr. Vinski continued. "Loopholes are always found, no matter how well-intentioned a proposal is."

His was decidedly the minority view on legislation by Councilman William Peduto that would bar any individual from giving more than $2,500 to a candidate for city office, and any partnership or political action committee from donating more than $5,000.

"This bill proposes a very common-sense, reasonable approach," said Barbara Grover, a board member of the League of Women Voters. She said 75 cities have enacted limits on campaign contributions.

"I think you'll be laggards if you vote no on this," added Mark Rauterkus, a member of an advisory committee that has been honing the legislation for years. He proposed that violators be barred from receiving any city money -- including their salaries if they are city officials or employees.

Under Mr. Peduto's proposal, if a person made a campaign contribution at the maximum level, he or she would be ineligible for any no-bid contracts from the city. The city's Ethics Hearing Board would be charged with advertising the new limits and hearing any complaints of violations. The controller's office would be charged with placing all campaign finance reports filed by candidates on a Web site.

It is based on a Philadelphia ordinance that survived a legal challenge that went to the state Supreme Court.

Council expects to hold a special meeting on the proposal next month, and then vote on it.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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