Pa. House approves bills on campaign finance reform

Apr. 16—HARRISBURG — Separate bills intended to add transparency to campaign finance in Pennsylvania elections advanced Tuesday out of the state House with bipartisan support.

One bill would add an additional reporting period for campaign spending and contributions. The other looks to broaden reporting requirements for all tax-exempt organizations and require reports for any level of contribution.

Both bills now advance to the state Senate for further consideration.

Rep. Jared G. Solomon, D-Philadelphia, introduced House Bill 1472. It passed 127-74 with all Democrats and 25 Republicans voting in favor.

The proposal was initially tailored to apply only to civic leagues and certain sets of nonprofit organizations with respect to reporting independent campaign contributions of any amount.

The bill was amended unanimously this week, however, with all 201 House members present voting to change its language to have it apply to all 501(c) nonprofit organizations.

These groups would be responsible to report contributions of any amount. The bill seeks to remove the existing monetary thresholds of $100 and $500, respectively, for reporting any donations in a calendar year or within the 24-hour reporting period leading up to an election.

Rep. Tim Bonner, R-Mercer/Butler, called the legislation "more optics than substance," but said that it sends an important message about broad concerns over the power and influence that dark money can have on elections.

Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford/Erie, previously questioned whether the bill would hold up under legal scrutiny. Roae had cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2021 where a majority order held that compelled disclosure of major donors to charities was unconstitutional.

Bonner insisted that the decision would have no bearing on the bill.

"This bill does not require the names of the initial donors to the nonprofit corporation to be disclosed, nor could it require such a disclosure," Bonner said.

House Bill 1220 comes from Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton. It passed with broad bipartisan support, 190-11. The "no" votes were made by Republicans only.

The bill seeks to enhance campaign spending transparency of candidates for the General Assembly by adding an additional pre-election reporting deadline.

Freeman's bill would align reporting standards for the state House and Senate with those in place already for candidates seeking statewide office — requiring that expense reports be filed by the sixth Tuesday prior to an election in addition to the existing reporting deadline on the second Friday before an election.

This bill, too, was amended this week by unanimous vote. The change adds language requiring that candidates and campaign committees provide detailed information on campaign expenditures for reimbursements. As it stands, reimbursements must be noted in campaign finance reports but don't require explanation.

"By having an earlier look at what candidates are raising, where they are raising money from, that enables the voters and the campaign process to more clearly indicate where people are gaining their support," Freeman said during his floor remarks Tuesday.