Friday, January 25, 2008

Bethlehem's Schweder is First to Propose Campaign Finance Reform in Lehigh Valley

Earlier this month, I told you that the state supremes' have upheld Philly's new campaign finance ordinance, designed to combat the "pay to play" atmosphere so prevalent in local politics.

Don't think that happens here? Look no farther than Easton, where politician Mike Fleck brazenly defends a $1,500 campaign contribution from the city's own financial advisor, Concord Public Finance. "If you disagree with that reform the system because 90% of the pols. in the Valley do that."

Fleck also thinks it's perfectly OK that the city's financial advisor treat the entire city council (and their families) to baseball games (although he claims it's only the Reading Phillies), but refuses to name the council members involved. "I am not going to expose people to your anal probe for a family friendly Father's Day outing that they threw for most of their clients."


Fortunately for us, the supremes' edict applies to any municipality governed by a home rule charter. In the Lehigh Valley, that includes both Northampton and Lehigh Counties as well as the three cities - Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton. Instead of waiting for reform from the land of midnight payraises - hell will freeze over before that happens - we can simply adopt our own fleckin' campaign finance laws. Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, a Philly watchdog group, explains why. "It's clearly changed the landscape already, in the sense that the big donors - the corporations or law firms or unions with big political action committees - are already finding themselves with less clout."

I am delighted to read that Bethlehem council member J. Michael Schweder has taken the initiative to propose contribution limits on candidates seeking office in Bethlehem. He even wants finance reports made available for public inspection at city hall. The Express Times summarizes his proposal here.

In September, I suggested that both counties post locally filed campaign finance reports online. How hard is that? If I could post reports filed by county council candidates here, couldn't the two largest governments in the Lehigh Valley make these reports available as well? I believe both counties are looking into this possibility.
Update: Bethlehem PA Politics (Young Republican), calling Schweder a "hypocit," perceives this as an attack against Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan and Bethlehem Controller Meg Holland. "Schweder needs to get a life and start doing GOOD things for the city rather than causing problems!" Isn't campaign finance reform a good thing? Isn't is overdue?
Update #2: A bill similar to Scwhweder's proposal is being considered in Pittsburgh.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is clearly a political move on Schweder's part, since the person it hurts the most in the City of Bethlehem is his chief rival the mayor-John Callahn.

I think Schweder may have the votes to push this through, too. How can someone on council not vote for this? It would be political suicide. He definetly has three votes (his, Leeson, Belinski) and my guess is that Donchez and Reynolds will support it. Reynolds comes from the Steve Samuelson school of politics and this seems like something Steve would support.

Philly created some kind of Board of Ethics/Ethics Commission to police the contributions. I wonder if Schweder's proposal will do the same. I am not sure how the Supreme Ct ruling addressed the necessity of the board of ethics, but, I think, there would need to be some oversight. I do not think that the oversight of the reform rules could be left with Council.

Anonymous said...

Of course Schweder is now calling for campaign finance reform. He is safe in his seat due to the power of incumbency. Where was he 6 years ago with this idea? Not too bold of a move to me.

Bernie O'Hare said...

1) Whatever impact this has on Callahan, it will have an equal impact on his opponent. And it will impact Schweder himself should he decide to challenge Callahan. It's a good idea, well worth implementing by all home rule governments.

2) Where was he 6 years ago with this idea? Not too bold of a move to me. Actually, I proposed this idea to county council myself a few years ago. Joe Brennan supported it, but it never went anywhere bc no one at that time knew for sure whether a home rule government could have its own election laws. The supreme court finally answered that question early this month, so it seems to me that Schweder has moved pretty quickly. Give the guy a little credit. Where's the love?

Anonymous said...

Bernie - the guy is rich. He doesn't need campaign contributions. He gets zilch credit in my book. Perfect timing for him to introduce this.

Bernie O'Hare said...

If you look at Philly's ordinance, it has a provision to protect candidates from rich guys who self-fund their campaigns. If he contributes $x to his own campaign, contribution limits are automatically doubled for others. I honestly believe Schweder's proposal is well-intentioned and overdue.

BethlehemDem said...

Bernie,

Schweder's plan calls for a doubling of the contribution limits for the opponents of candidates who spend their own money, if the amount of their own money they spend is more than the annual salry of the position sought.

I have been a critic of Schweder in the past, but this is a good plan. Campaign finance reform is needed. I hope more home rule charter government jump on board.

Bernie O'Hare said...

BethDem,

It appears then that Schweder's plan is based on the ordinance that passed muster in Philly.

I also don't think this is aimed at Mayor Callahan - it's aimed at everyone. I won't presume to speak for him, but can't think he'd view this as anything more than a relief. Candidates and elected officials, most of whom are actually pretty good people, have to spend a lot of time beating the bushes for money. If there is a cap on total spending, it will actually ease the funbdraising burden on candidates and incumbents. Debates and town halls will become more significant. All in all, this is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I agree with annon 12:53 on the motive. I think this is aimed at Callahan and his allies. He and Cunningham upset the plantation style of government in Bethlehem.In the good old days these guys would run on their name cause their great-granddays were a fireman or a star athlete or something. Having said all that I think it is a good idea. I am very familiar with local elections and it is getting very difficult to compete without money, because some folks can raise a ton of it.
Policing will be tough. I am very concerned with soft money and third party so-called non affiliated activities. Then you have the issue of paying to enforce this. Most municipalities will have a heck of a time keeping up with all the paper.
My heart is all for it, but my head still has a little problem with limiting someones right to get any support from people.

Anonymous said...

Why not introduce something worth while, like a smoking ban.

Now, I choose to post anonymous, but some know may know me by punctuation...

I had 3 beers and and cheesesteak this evening @ Machs Gute on Linden St in Bethlehem, great food, atmosphere and George and Lou (owners) are just sincere and honest straight up guys, but the smoke in the place really sucks.

George and Lou are non smokers and feel that if they go somke free, the mixed crowd will go somewhere else.

Well Schweds, if you really want to make a difference in the great town of Bethlehem, start by introducing a smoking ban in restaurants and bars, you have the ability, do you have the balls?

Philly, NYC, all of California, hell even Ireland prohibits smoking.

C'mon, do something that makes sence.

Capping campaign contributions, that's total political see thru bullshit...

Bernie O'Hare said...

What the hell do the Irish know?

Capping campaign contributions, that's total political see thru bullshit...

Not when it includes a cap on total spending, and the Philly ordinance does. Then it becomes a blow against pay to play politics, and has already had an impact there. If Schweder's ordinance is based on ehat's on the books in Philly, then it will be effective.

Anonymous said...

3 beers and I'm Irish?

Anonymous said...

it's terrible that we have to rely on local gov't to push for these limits b/c the state won't entertain the idea.

And don't worry about callahan raising the required dollars to survive this. No challenger will have the access to the sheer number of contributors that he can tap.

One logistical issue to point out: Beth is in two counties. Can the city regulate both parts of the city or will that require the counties to sign off somehow?

Philly is both a city and a county so I can see how it was able to pull this off as a home rule matter. But beth is not a county. Dont counties set these rules?

Still, a needed proposition.

Bernie O'Hare said...

But beth is not a county. Dont counties set these rules?

I have a link to the supreme court decision in my post. If you get a chance, it has the Philly ordinance and the histopry of how this evolved. The court ruled that any home rule municipality can set its own elections rules. That's why Bethlehem can do it. The dissent expressed your worry. a concern about a "balkanization" of the elections code.

Anonymous said...

I have to laugh. Darth has made many proposals over the past ten years. He has never done the follow up. Wasn't he going to fix the route 22 over crowding? He gets more press for doing nothing than any other politician that I can think of.

Bernie O'Hare said...

JohnnyDem,

Put aside your disdain for Schweder and ask yourself these questions: 1) Do we need campaign finance reform? 2) Aren't you tired of seeing deep pockets influence the outcome of elections? 3) Do you honestly think the land of midnight payraises will give you campaign finance reform anytime soon?

If your answer to these questions is NO, then you have to like Schweder's idea. And if you don't think he'll push it, all you need do is ask other council members to do so.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Of course, I like the idea of campaign finance reform. I just don't trust Schweder.
Willy Reynolds beat two of Schweder's picks for council in the last election. He did not have a lot of money, but he was out there going door to door to talk with and listen to the voters of Bethlehem.
Any reform will do harm to the candidates that don't get out and meet with their public. Schweder is never at city functions that I've been at. I assume that he is at the country club instead.
Finance reform is needed, but why propose only financial reform? How about stopping last minute negative mailers? What about limiting those ugly yard signs?

Bernie O'Hare said...

JohnnyDem,

Now you're mentioning things that have nothing to do with campaign finance. Before we do that, let's look at the proposal itself. You think it's good. You think someone like Samuelson would go for it. So why not lobby him instead of condemning the idea bc you don't trust Schweder? I think he'd go for it.

As far as the other two ideas are concerned - last minute mailers and signs - you can't control the content of what someone says, even if it is negative. That violates the First Amendment. Your only remedy is to sue if it is defamatory. But with campaign finance report like the idea proposed it necessarily follows that there won't be as much money for the last-minute sludge. And as far as signs go, the local Democratic party went to court to make sure it can place as many ugly yard signs as it likes. Actually, the yard signs don't bother me that much.

Anonymous said...

If johnny Dem feels guys like Reynolds with no money can win , whats wrong with the proposal. I will admit Reyolds seemed to work hard but he had a good Bethlehem name a strong grassroots network and fit the native son profile Bethlehem loves. All of this brings me back to why does Schweders plan hurt guys like Reynolds?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I think Johnny Dem said that this proposal would help someone like Samuelson.

Anonymous said...

Bernie O'Hare said...

I honestly believe Schweder's proposal is well-intentioned and overdue.

What rock are you living under Benrie? Shweder is a loser in Bethlehem anymore, and is grabbing at straws to look electable. He screwed up the Five Points by putting in a McDonalds and a CVS at 4th & Broadhead. He voted against lights for kids to play ball at night under at Northeast Little League. I guess he hates kids. He doesn't have any clout anymore without Szabo and Belinski is on her way out too.

Anonymous said...

I really think that Schweder has hidden motives... Meg Holland would have never won if her friend Elmer Gates didn't contribute $15,100 to her campaign. He isn't even a Bethlehem resident, but he has big pockets and has no influence on anything she does. He donated the money out of the kindness of his own heart. I get the whole idea... but Holland was forced to raise the money and Mr. Gates was very generous in helping her out since her opponent raised in excess of $50,000 and contributed $20,000 of his own money. I don't know that campaign contribution reform is needed in small elections -- the family and friends are funding the campaigns not the pacs and special interest groups...

Anonymous said...

Please read my post regarding tax law and campaign contribution limits.

www.bethlehempapolitics.blogspot.com