Just think: Pretty soon Pittsburgh could have the kind of responsive, open government already provided by Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Or at least we might end up with similar limits on campaign contributions. And it's all thanks to a bill proposed by City Councilor Bill Peduto, who at a Dec. 16 public hearing said the measure would "provide access for people to run for office."
Based on a 2003 Philadelphia ordinance, Peduto's measure would limit individuals to contributing $2,000 to any candidate running for city council, city controller or mayor. Political committees could give a maximum of $4,000. Those caps aren't exactly draconian: The individual limits are the same as those set for candidates running for president. But the measure does prohibit lawyers and other professionals who contribute the maximum amount from receiving "no-bid" contracts from the city.
Peduto's measure was supported by most of the handful of public speakers attending the hearing. Sue Broughton of the League of Women Voters, for example, said it would help voters "feel that elections are fair and that ordinary citizens have a chance to run." But she and Bill Godshall, a volunteer for political watchdog group Common Cause, urged that the limits be lower -- perhaps $1,000 for citywide offices, $250 for council races.
Peduto's fellow councilors expressed more trepidation. Alan Hertzberg fretted that "the cure for the illness [might be] worse than the current illness." Wealthy candidates, Hertzberg noted, could spend an unlimited sum of their own money, while Peduto's limits would hobble candidates who count on contributions to compete. City Councilor Sala Udin was also wary of the provision barring high-dollar contributors from getting professional-service contracts, which are usually offered without a bidding process. After all, he noted, "An engineer might contribute to a candidate [because] they believe that candidate has the best general policies for the city."
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Peduto's bill is the date on which it would take effect: Jan. 1, 2005. Council will not meet again until after that date, and there's the little matter of a mayor's race next year.
Then again, that might be the perfect time to institute such changes. Peduto, who is said to be mulling a mayoral candidacy himself, says that even if his measure doesn't pass, it provides an "opportunity to ask the mayoral candidates if they'd voluntarily follow" its limits. Caught up in the public spirit, City Paper asked Peduto just that question. "It's something I would consider," he said after a pause. "I don't want to make a unilateral decision on it."