Mayor vetoes campaign finance reform

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today vetoed a campaign finance reform measure narrowly approved by City Council last week, virtually ensuring it will die and drawing a sharp rebuke from the measure's sponsor.

"The ordinance before me today is fraught with problems," Mr. Ravenstahl wrote. "It provides an unfair competitive advantage for the wealthy and will have a chilling effect on the labor movement. It will inhibit the ability of challengers to mount successful campaigns against incumbents. Further it does not provide a level playing field between city, county and state office holders."

Councilman William Peduto, who last week said he would not make a third bid for the mayor's office in 2009, shot back that those objections were not valid. The legislation does not limit the amount wealthy candidates can contribute to their own campaigns because doing so is unconstitutional, he said. And labor unions in many cities have backed campaign finance reform "to stop the buying of government and protect workers."

The veto "smacks of corrupt, backward-thinking, old-school politics," Mr. Peduto said. He said he believed it was motivated by "pure self-interest. In other words, what is the next office after mayor that Luke Ravenstahl may be looking toward?"

The legislation would have limited contributions to city candidates to $2,000 per election by individuals or partnerships, and $5,000 by political committees. The donation limits in the legislation would double if any candidate used $250,000 of his or her own money for campaigns -- a measure designed to give candidates without great wealth the chance to make up some ground if they face a well-heeled rival. Big donors would have to disclose any contracts, employment relationships or board appointments with the city or its authorities.

It passed 5-4. It takes six votes to override a veto.

Mr. Ravenstahl, in his veto message, took a direct shot at Mr. Peduto. "Last year, the bill's sponsor received a $50,000 contribution from a wealthy private citizen whose business specializes in outsourcing work to Asia," he wrote, referring to a donation by William Benter, owner of Downtown-based Acusis Medical Transcription. "Assume for the moment that the contributor, instead, decided to seek higher office, running on an anti-labor platform and self-financing the entire campaign. Under the current bill, the labor community, whose funds are raised at the small dollar level from working men and women, and distributed through PACs, would be forced to find 50 PACs to contribute at the maximum levels proscribed by this bill to match the wealthy, anti-labor candidate."

Mr. Peduto countered that the current system allowing unlimited checks puts Pittsburgh in stark contrast with other cities.

"While almost every other state and city across the country has adopted sensible campaign contribution limits, to limit the amount of influence special interests can buy, Pittsburgh continues to be ruled by the political machine," he said. "We will never see the reforms that are needed to create a progressive city while we operate under this pay to play system of government."


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