By Lance Woods:
Since 1970, no Pennsylvania Governor has lost a reelection bid, however Pennsylvania’s 2014 Governor’s race ended with Tom Wolf (D) defeating incumbent Gov. Corbett (R). The election is arguably Pennsylvania’s most expensive, with Governor-elect Wolf spending $27.9 million, including $10 million of his own money, and Gov. Corbett spending $23.8 million. This historic defeat was marred by accusations from both parties claiming campaign finance violations. Regardless of the merits of these accusations, it is very unlikely that any changes will be made to Pennsylvania’s toothless campaign finance laws.
No One Has Clean Hands
In June 2014, reports surfaced that billionaire casino investor Sheldon Adelson donated $987, 844 to a political action committee (“PAC”) set up by Gov. Corbett to help his bid for reelection. Great for Gov. Corbett, right? No, because Pennsylvania’s law strictly prohibits casino owners in the state from making contributions to candidates for state office or political committees and Mr. Adelson owns a casino in the commonwealth. The penalties for violating this provision range from fines to the revocation of the contributor’s gaming license. This “illegal accidental” contribution was quickly remedied because the large contribution was moved from Gov. Corbett’s PAC to the Republican Governors’ Association PAC (“RGA”). Although the RGA was Corbett’s biggest donor when he ran for Governor in 2010 an RGA spokesman claims that none of Adelson’s money was included in Corbett’s 2014 spending.
August 2014, the GOP accused Tom Wolf and his treasurer of numerous violations of Pennsylvania’s Election Code. The central claim is that Wolf created “Campaign for a Fresh Start” (“CFS”) to circumvent the Election Code rules that govern an authorized candidates political committee and the required disclosures that apply to such a committee. Specifically, that despite Wolf’s active participation in the creation of CFS, he never disclosed that CFS was an Affiliated and Connected Organization of his Campaign pursuant to § 3244(b)(4). The GOP claims that Wolf’s explanation for the creation of CFS is merely pretext and that its primary purpose is to contribute to his campaign. This allegation is based on the fact that Campaign for a Fresh Start has made numerous public broadcasts and communications directly advocating for the election of Tom Wolf.
Although the penalties for such violations appear to have teeth, these provisions have never actually been used. Once certified by the attorney general, a judgment of ouster from office can be entered against the candidate who has been found to knowingly and willfully accept contributions, or make expenditures in contravention of PA’s election code. Attorney General Kathleen Kane has not responded to any of these claims. Disclosure requirements are intended to ensure that voters are fully aware of who is funding campaigns, however it is easy to question the utility of these requirements because they are so easily circumvented without any serious consequences. In the wake of Tom Wolf’s historic victory, it appears that all of these allegations will soon be forgotten. Until investigation of these violations are expedited and candidates are held accountable Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws will continue to be ignored.