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Editorial - An appetite for money

July 29, 1997

Like children who ignored their parents' warning about feeding stray animals, Pennsylvania lobbyists are finding that once lawmakers develop an appetite for money, it's hard to keep them from hanging around your doorstep. But as long as Pennsylvania remains one of the few states that has no limits on contributions by individuals or political-action committees, it's not likely the problem will go away.

The average citizen often sees lobbyists as representatives of "special interests" who use money to buy access to lawmakers. But according to the head of a lobbyists' organization, it's the legislators who demand too much, too often.

R. David Tive, president of the Pennsylvania Association for Government Relations, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the situation is "completely out of control."

Tive and others told reporters that lawmakers are holding an increasing number of fund-raisers in Harrisburg, at $150 to $500 per ticket, and inviting every lobbyist in the state capital. Buying one ticket to every one of the hundreds of events held annually would cost each lobbyist $90,000, Tive said.

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Should anyone care about a lobbyist's troubles? Yes, because the feeding frenzy that seems to be developing is doing two things. With no limits on what they can solicit or accept, the incumbents can build war chests big enough to scare off all but the most well-heeled challengers.

But the more serious problem this wide-open money hunt presents is that it diminishes the clout of those average citizens with legitimate concerns who can't buy $150-a-plate tickets to a breakfast. With all those paying customers to pay attention to, how much time will lawmakers really devote to the concerns of those who don't pony up?

We recommend that Pennsylvania begin reforming the process by requiring those who accept contributions to list the source of the money. Knowing the public will know where the money came from just might shame some lawmakers into spending less time raising it.

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