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Dark money transparency, campaign finance reporting bills pass Pa. House

FILE - The Pennsylvania Capitol stands in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
Matt Rourke
FILE - The Pennsylvania Capitol stands in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

With millions of dollars having already been spent this election cycle, the Pennsylvania House passed two bills Tuesday dealing with the transparency behind a candidate’s support.

The first bill requires campaign finance reports for all candidates for state office be available six weeks before an election. The second bill requires 501(c) corporations to report the amount spent advocating for a candidate.

Each passed with bipartisan support going 190-11 and 127-74, respectively.

Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, sponsored the campaign finance report bill. He said the key to his bill is transparency.

This will come, he said, “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.”

Candidates for state office must post campaign finance reports the second Friday before the election, unless they are running for a statewide seat, in which case they would post a report six weeks prior.

Freeman’s bill would require all candidates to post both six weeks prior to and the second Friday before the election.

Reps. Jared Solomon and Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, sponsored the bill involving dark money. Both are running for statewide office this year.

Dark money refers to money spent by outside groups to affect the outcome of an election, but without disclosing the donor.

Kenyatta argued it was necessary given the amount spent by outside groups.

“Every six months … dark money groups, special interest groups spend thousands, tens of thousands, in some instances, millions of dollars to impact the outcome of those elections without having a lot of the simple safeguards in terms of allowing voters to understand who is paying for the ads, who’s paying for certain communication, and what their interests may be,” he said.

Rep. Timothy Bonner, R-Mercer, noted the 2021 U.S. Supreme Court decision Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta ruled donors to charities and other non-profits can’t be disclosed under the First Amendment.

While he said the bill would not prevent dark money influence, he still voted for it saying it was important to send a message about where the state House stands.

“This bill does nothing to stop the flow and use of dark money, but it will signal where we stand on this issue as the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,” he said. “This bill sends a greater long term message that this body, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, wants to regulate dark money in our political process.”