No, it’s not an Exxon Mobil backed former tobacco lobbyist whose entire platform consists of removing corporate taxes and gutting the Clean Air Act. It’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Anthony Harlan Williams; charter school and school choice proponent, centrist Philadelphia democrat, and state senator who helped create Philadelphia’s Gun Violence Task Force to prosecute illegal gun sales.
Williams entered the race late with money from a handful of wealthy backers, which was possible due to Pennsylvania’s lack of campaign contribution caps:
His campaign has received six-figure checks from as far away as Chicago, plus $1.5 million from three Bala Cynwyd businessmen who, like the Chicago donor, share Williams’ views on schools.
Notably, his campaign website says the state’s lack of contribution caps can give the impression “that lawmakers’ decisions can be bought.” He vows to bar donors of more than $1,000 from receiving no-bid state contracts.
The motivation for contribution caps in national elections is the worry that removing them would led to politicians being more influenced by interest groups. But Williams suggests to me that the system would produce at least some candidates who would be less influenced by interest groups. Someone would be hard pressed to read about this guy and conclude he was a partisan hack. Part of this is that I think it’s easier to find one altruistic billionaire to donate $10 million for a selfless cause than to find 10,000 altruistic people who will do the same with $1,000. It will also be easier to find a billionaire who will donate to a candidate willing to face up to the hard policy choices we face than to find 10,000 people who don’t have the usual distaste for swallowing bitter pills; for example, getting rid of the tax deductibility of health insurance.
So would repealing campaign contribution caps make our electoral system less democratic? Maybe. But maybe that’s just what we need.