1. PUBLIC REPORTS ARE INCOMPLETE
Campaigns are required to file public reports detailing spending, but they are not required to itemize that spending, disclose the ultimate recipient or include receipts. As a result, many bundle expenses into a single credit card payment or a self-reimbursement, masking the true recipient of the money.
2. THE RULES FOR CAMPAIGNS ARE WEAK
Pennsylvania is the only state with neither a limit on how much money can be given to a campaign, nor an explicit ban or limit on lawmakers using that money for personal benefit. Under state law, campaign cash must be used for "influencing the outcome of an election." But in almost every case, politicians argue that expenses meet that definition, and there's no authority other than the courts or law enforcement to enforce the provision if they run afoul of it.
3. OVERSIGHT IS ALMOST NONEXISTENT
The Pennsylvania Department of State is responsible for overseeing campaigns. But just three people in the department keep track of roughly 3,000 registered campaign committees and upwards of 10,000 to 12,000 campaign finance filings in busy election years. Its power is “solely administrative,” with no authority to issue advisory opinions or impose fines beyond a $10-per-day late fee for reports.
4. THE PROCESS TO GET RECORDS IS LONG
There is a process for the public to request more detailed records of campaign spending, but it's not easy. First, a request must be made to the Department of State, which oversees campaigns. The department then makes a request to the campaign, which has 30 days to turn over the spending records. But there's no penalty if the campaign doesn't comply, or if it never kept the records at all.
5. CAMPAIGN SPENDING MATTERS A LOT
Pennsylvania state lawmakers earn a minimum of $88,000 a year, with leadership raking in as much as $135,000. Their campaign accounts give them access to tens of thousands — in some cases, even millions — of additional dollars. Following the money and how they spend it, and whom they spend it with, can shed light on how they use their influence and who has their ear.