The Lead

Senate bill barring third party election funding advances in House

By: - June 8, 2022 3:37 pm

Pa. House State Government Chairperson Seth Grove, R-York (Facebook/City & State Pa.).

A House panel on Tuesday advanced a bill barring county officials from soliciting or accepting non-government funding for elections.

The Republican-authored Senate bill now appears poised for a repeat in the House of a debate this spring when state election officials and Democratic legislators urged lawmakers to ensure money is available to help counties fund elections.

The House State Government Committee reported out Sen. Lisa Baker’s, R-Luzerne, legislation with a 14-10 vote along party lines on Tuesday.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Scott Conklin, of Centre County, urged members to vote no because the bill has no accompanying fiscal statement or appropriation, adding that replacing outside funding could be “quite costly” and make voting uneven across the state.

The panel’s chairperson, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, agreed that he is hopeful House members could compromise to include funding in the bill. 

Conklin said after the vote that he would like to see the bill passed and an appropriation in place before the House breaks for the summer so that the money is available for the fall session. He said he would consult the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania on how much counties need and how it could be distributed equitably.

Grove did not return a call to his Capitol office Wednesday.

The Senate passed the bill 37-12 in April. Baker introduced the legislation 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 grants faced scrutiny from Republicans who argued the money was distributed unevenly and benefitted Democratic counties. 

Conklin said there is no proof the grants benefitted any candidate over another and that the money was available to every Pennsylvania county. Officials in some counties chose not to apply, he said.

During Senate debate, 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. Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said the proposed change should be discussed as part of budget negotiations.

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Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.

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