Lehigh Valley

Whitehall approves campaign contribution limits

WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - Whitehall Township has become one of the first townships in the Lehigh Valley to establish limits on political contributions candidates can receive from individuals or political action committees.

The ordinance, which passed by a 7-0 vote during Monday night's meeting, sets a limit of $2,000 on mayoral candidates and $1,000 on council candidates.

"At some point, we need to take back our democracy," said Commissioner Dennis Hower.

"Our democracy in Whitehall is not going to be pay-to-play," said President Phillips Armstrong.

Commissioner Linda Snyder said that during her lengthy career as an elected official in the township, she had personally witnessed what she called "pay-to-play" activities in the Whitehall Township building.

Mayor Edward Hozza then went on the record saying that no such activities had transpired during his administration and that he and commissioners were committed to ethical government behavior. He said that prior to his administration there were stories of the  "wild, wild west" when it came to government business.

Hozza said many of these "wild, wild west" days are currently taking place in other local municipalities, but not in Whitehall.

Per the ordinance, the township's ethics board would be responsible for enforcement. Violators would be subject to a $2,000 fine at the mayoral level, and a $1,000 fine at the commissioner position.

Snyder raised questions about the legality of the measure and whether it would stand up to legal injunctions from the state or the federal government. She cited the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case of Citizens United against the Federal Elections Commission. The nation's highest court ruled in favor of the conservative non-profit Citizens United, rendering an opinion that limiting campaign contributions to political candidates was unconstitutional.

"To hell with the state and federal government," said Commissioner Phil Ginder.

The ordinance also includes the township's treasurer, which caps campaign money donations at $1,000.

In other business, commissioners approved compensation rates for the treasurer over the next four years. During 2018 and 2019, the amount will be set at about $37,400. That amount will increase to about $38,100 in 2020 and 2021. The ordinance passed by a 6-1 margin, with Commissioner Dennis Hower voting against it.

"I think a wage freeze is ridiculous," Hower said.

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