SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS - LancasterOnline: Editorials


When it comes to campaign finance and redistricting, Pennsylvania flunks and will probably continue to be held back by its lack of governmental transparency.

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Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2012 12:01 am | Updated: 7:03 pm, Thu Sep 12, 2013.

Pennsylvania's primary is coming up Tuesday, April 24, a good time to remember that our commonwealth needs remedial work in election transparency.

When the Center for Public Integrity, a national watchdog organization, issued a recent "report card" on the state of states' corruption, Pennsylvania wound up in the middle of the bell curve - earning a C-minus. (Believe it or not, New Jersey ranked tops in the nation in public rectitude.)

But Pennsylvania failed at campaign financing and redistricting - both of which are critical to the electoral process.

Why the "F" for campaign finance? Because Pennsylvania sets no limits on the amount of money that can be contributed to candidates or committees.

We are not naïve enough to think restricting the flow of funds will end the corrupting influence of campaign cash. Money, like water, finds a way to seep past every obstacle in its path.

What Pennsylvania needs, we suspect, is a campaign finance law that requires full disclosure of contributions on a timely basis, with tough penalties for violators. And then the law needs to be enforced consistently.

Right now, unless someone complains, it's rare that any candidate or campaign even gets its knuckles rapped for filing a finance report late, or failing to include all the information on donations that the current law requires. And the reports aren't posted online in a timely fashion.

Why bother writing laws if no one holds you accountable for obeying? No wonder Pennsylvania fails at campaign finance.

The state's "F" for redistricting is all too appropriate, considering that the Tuesday primary for legislative seats will be held on the basis of district lines that were drawn 11 years ago.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court threw out a redistricting plan that had been approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which is appointed every 10 years to carve up the state's population into equal numbers of legislative constituents. Apparently the 2012 redistricting proposal was too obviously gerrymandered even for the Supremes' tastes.

With the primary coming a month earlier than usual because 2012 is a presidential election year, the reapportionment commission didn't have enough time to draw a new set of maps in time for candidate filing deadlines. The process continues to drag on, with no new maps in sight.

The Center for Public Integrity's grades center on the transparency of the process - and redistricting in this state is about as transparent as the making of sausage. Yet redistricting for seats in the Legislature actually is a step above the completely opaque system for coming up with new congressional district lines, which gives the political party with control of the Legislature free rein to rejigger the maps to extract maximum electoral benefit from the new census data.

With the primary this week - polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and you all should get out to vote, by the way - we'd suggest that you might consider basing your vote for state representatives and senators on their commitment to improving Pennsylvania's grades for elections. But that's impossible for nearly every person in Lancaster County. Only one legislative district - the 37th House seat, where current Rep. Tom Creighton is retiring - has any competition. Everyone else is cruising toward renomination.

Why so little competition? Partly it's because the dominant Republican party does its best to quash challenges to sitting lawmakers. And partly it's because challengers know the state's rules on campaign finance make it almost impossible to oust an incumbent, who has far more access to campaign cash than an underdog does.

So voters in this county, at least, have few to no options to force changes in the system.

No wonder Pennsylvania flunks the transparency test. Sadly, it's the voters who wind up wearing the dunce cap.

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