State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, at a Capitol news conference in 2019 (Commonwealth Media Services/City & State Pa.).
Republican-authored legislation prohibiting third parties from funding election operations passed the Pennsylvania Senate.
The upper chamber voted 37-12 on Wednesday to approve a bill sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, that requires state and local governments to use public funding derived from taxes and fees to pay for election operations.
The bill came after the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit with ties to Facebook executive Mark Zuckerberg, allocated $250 million in grants to counties for election operations in 2020. The grant program faced scrutiny from Republicans, who argued that the money was distributed unevenly and benefited Democratic counties.
“If we do not shut off this valve now, each side will figure out ways to get their funders to step in to engineer ways to get more of their votes cast,” Baker said on the Senate floor. “There is nothing good government in that.”
The Senate State Government Committee held two hearings this month to discuss Baker’s legislation and a similar House proposal, which has yet to see a vote from the full Senate. Officials from the Department of State argued that the CTCL grant was open for every Pennsylvania county to apply for funding, and officials from Philadelphia County dismissed claims that the money affected the election outcome.
But if the General Assembly approves legislation prohibiting outside allocations, state elections officials and legislative Democrats urged lawmakers to ensure counties receive adequate appropriations to fund elections.
Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, offered an amendment, which failed on the floor, that would have allocated more than $9 million to be distributed to counties for election operations.
“If we’re going to pull outside money and say the government should fund our elections, we need to do just that,” Street said. “We have a very reasonable proposal in front of us for how we fund elections. We should have money to go along with this legislation. Without funding, this is just another unfunded mandate from Harrisburg directed at our counties.”
Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said the proposed change should be discussed as part of budget negotiations.
Common Cause, a good government advocacy group, opposed the bill, with Executive Director Khalif Ali saying the bill “does not guarantee that the Legislature will provide required election funding.”
“It only limits where counties can look for help when they need it,” Ali said ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
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