Bill would place new financial limits on Pittsburgh candidate campaigns |
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Bob Bauder

Candidates seeking election to Pittsburgh government offices will be limited in how much money they can move from one political action committee to another under a bill slated for introduction Tuesday in City Council.

The bill would eliminate a so-called millionaire exemption from campaign finance regulations and set limits on donations to match those imposed by the federal government.

Councilman Dan Gilman of Shady­side said he plans to amend city election law to close loopholes that nullified donation limits during the race for mayor in 2013.

“Nationwide, money is having too large an impact on our electoral process,” Gilman said. “Locally, we tried to address this a few years ago, but council members made so many amendments, it watered down the bill to almost being useless.”

The ordinance limits donations to $2,000 per individual and $4,000 for political action committees, but the limits are void if a candidate gives his campaign a personal contribution of more than $50,000.

The millionaire’s exemption started in 2013 when city Controller Michael Lamb dumped $52,000 of his own money into his Democratic mayoral primary campaign. A judge ruled that the donation voided the limits, which permitted Lamb and another candidate, former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, to move large amounts from their existing political committees to ones for mayor.

Lamb dropped out of the race, and Mayor Bill Peduto defeated Wagner in the primary contest and won the November election.

Gilman’s legislation would follow federal donation limits of $2,700 per individual and $5,000 for political action committees. It would prevent transferring more than $5,000 from one PAC to another.

It would prohibit stacking, in which a supporter or PAC gives double the amount in one donation for a primary and general election during a campaign cycle. The bill would establish an online searchable database for campaign finance reports, require candidates to file reports in each of the last five months leading to an election and empower the city’s Ethics Hearing Board to enforce the ordinance along with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

Gilman is preparing separate legislation for Tuesday that would revamp the Ethics Hearing Board, which investigates alleged violations of city ethics law and claims of misconduct by city employees.

Under that bill, members would be appointed by a separate body of representatives from the Allegheny County Bar Association, dean’s office of the University of Pittsburgh’s Law School and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. The board is now appointed by the mayor and confirmed by City Council. It would have a staff of at least one person, Gilman said. The board has no staff.

The bill would sever the board’s ties to the city Law Department, which acts as its legal adviser, and include a “whistle-blower” provision to protect people who file complaints.

“There hasn’t been a board that was independent or strong enough to encourage the public or city employees to have faith in the system,” Gilman said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].

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