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Talking Campaign Cash CapsEdit

Feb. 25, 2008

Tomorrow Pittsburgh City Council will hold a 2 p.m. public hearing on Councilman Bill Peduto's campaign finance reform package, first reported here.

Its main provision would cap campaign contributions by individuals to city candidacies at $2,500, while political action committees, which usually front for businesses or labor unions, could give $5,000.

No doubt some council members will be wondering in coming weeks why the heck they should put a limit on the amount of money somebody can give them to aid their reelection bids. We at Early Returns aren't in a position to editorialize, but our limited research suggests that the caps in Mr. Peduto's proposal are actually higher than those in numerous other cities. Some examples:

Los Angeles limits campaign contributions to $1,000. There is one big exception: If any candidate gives or lends their own campaign more than $30,000, the caps jump to $7,000 for all candidates in that race. (Nobody can limit what someone gives to their own campaign, courts have decided. Mr. Peduto's proposal has a similar cap-lifting provision when a self-funded candidate enters the race.)

Maryland's limits of $4,000 on donations by individuals, and $6,000 by PACs -- which applies to city of Baltimore elections -- seems in the same ballpark as Mr. Peduto's plan. But get this: No person is allowed to make contributions totaling more than $10,000 to political candidates or committees in any given election cycle. That makes it tough, if not impossible, for a big spender to influence a bunch of elections.

Sacramento, Calif., limits contributions to mayoral candidates to $1,150 by individuals and $5,850 by PACs. Council candidates can take checks of as much as $900 from individuals and $3,500 from PACs.

Seattle caps contributions by an individual to a candidate at $700, covering both the primary and general election. San Francisco sets its limit at $500, and bars anyone from giving more than $3,000 in total to all city candidates in any calendar year.

And at the low end of the spectrum is San Diego, where a mayoral candidate can't take more than $320 from a contributor, and a council candidate can only take $270.

In Pittsburgh, of course, the sky's the limit. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has received a $25,000 contribution and Mr. Peduto got one for $50,000 last year.

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