Archive for May, 2011

Response to Councilman Burgess’ Efforts to Rescind Our City’s Campaign Finance Reform

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

campaign-finance-reformAs the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported, on Tuesday, Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced legislation to repeal the city’s campaign finance law. Following is a press statement and memo from Councilman Bill Peduto on Burgess’ efforts to renew the old ”pay to play” system. Peduto calls Burgess’ attacks against the law “hollow and wrong” and a “bow to the pressure of big money interests.” He also details exactly what the law is in order to combat dishonest statements made to the media.

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Burgess Campaign Finance Reform Statement
May 10, 2011

“In 2009, City Council passed campaign finance reform legislation – a reform that was long overdue for the City of Pittsburgh. It is disappointing to learn that Councilman Burgess would bow to the pressure of big money interests and reverse the reforms that Pittsburgh fought so hard to enact. Councilman Burgess’ attacks against the law are hollow and wrong. He is simply giving in to special interests and working to hide who is funding his campaign. The voters deserve to know who is pay-rolling this effort before they vote – and state law requires he tell them.

The City’s laws on acceptance and disclosure of contributions follow the federal rules and this was clearly discussed during Council’s debate in 2009. These efforts to rewrite history and create turmoil for political gain right before an election are being done at the expense of good government and transparency.

I look forward to the debate on this issue. It is further regrettable that Councilman Burgess would try to waive the rules of Council to vote on this bill tomorrow even further taking away the public’s ability to voice their position on this matter. I am dismayed that Council Members Lavelle, Dowd and Smith would support the waiver of rules to bring this up for a vote before the public has an opportunity to comment.

The people of Pittsburgh should be vigilant. Those who favor a “pay to play” government have given their orders and Councilman Burgess is working to deliver a gift for them – at the public’s expense.”

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MEMO
To: Pittsburgh City Council
From: William Peduto, Author/Sponsor of Campaign Finance Reform Act
Date: May 13, 2011
Re: Dishonest Statements Regarding Campaign Finance Reform Act

During the past few weeks, the public has been barraged with unethical and illegitimate statements regarding the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2009.  I spent five years working to pass legislation that would limit the undue influence of those who believe that our local government should operate under a “pay to play” system.  During those years at least four versions of campaign limits were debated. Finally, on May 5, 2009, Pittsburgh joined the ranks of most other cities and established rules on campaign contributions.  Now with the 2011 primary just days away, a Mayor-backed faction supported by Pittsburgh’s version of the classic political machine has launched a campaign to twist the language and intent of this bill in order to damage their opponents.  It is critical that the attempt by Councilman Ricky Burgess to rescind the Campaign Finance Reform Act under these reprehensible tactics be dismissed immediately and that the public be given a full understanding of the legislation and the process.

As you all know, in 2009 we debated two proposals regarding campaign finance limits.  After vetoing the original bill, Mayor Ravenstahl and County Executive Onorato offered a modest proposal to set limits–these limits would have been some of the highest in the country and did not address the important issues included in earlier versions.  The Mayor’s bill would have set limits for contributions to Council candidates at $4,600 per individual per election cycle and $10,000 per Political Action Committee per election cycle. Under the bill finally approved and passed by City Council and signed by the Mayor, these monetary limits and campaign periods were changed.

The Campaign Finance Reform Act set limits at $1,000 per individual per covered election and $2,000 per PAC per covered election. As was discussed during the debate and contained within the legislation, a covered election is any primary, general, or special election.  Therefore a contribution of $1,000 could be made by an individual, or $2,000 could be made by a PAC to a candidate in both the primary and the general election.

            “COVERED ELECTION – Every primary, general or special election for City Elected Office” – 2009-1039, §198.01 Definitions

Read the rest of the memo here.

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Finally, Illegal Billboard to be Removed by September 1st

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

illegal_billboardIt’s been four years since Lamar Advertising and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority reached an agreement on the construction of a giant 1,900-square-foot LED billboard and ticker on the Grant Street Transportation Center. It’s been three years since Pittsburgh City Councilors Bill Peduto, Patrick Dowd, Ricky Burgess, Bruce Kraus, and Doug Shields raised objections to the billboard as the City granted a permit without requiring Lamar or the Parking Authority to obtain needed variances, public hearings, etc. and the City revoked the permit for the partially erected billboard. In that three years, there’s been numerous lawsuits, allegations of corruptiondismissals, court decisions against Lamar, a moratorium and editorials for its removal, yet, the sign still stands.

In March, Scenic Pittsburgh, a civic group dedicated to banning billboard blight, went to court to demand that the illegal sign finally be removed. Yesterday, Scenic Pittsburgh announced that an agreement has been reached and that Lamar will pay to have the sign removed and that removal will occur by September 1st. Here’s a letter by Mike Dawida, Executive Director of Scenic Pittsburgh and former Allegheny County Commissioner, announcing their victory:

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Dear Friends of Scenic Pittsburgh,

  I am pleased to announce Scenic Pittsburgh has negotiated an agreement the Parking Authority, the City and sign owner to remove a billboard erected in violation of the City of Pittsburgh Zoning Code. We expect the 19′ x 58′ electronic billboard that hangs on the Grant Street Transportation Center in Downtown Pittsburgh will be removed on or before September 1, 2011. We are pleased about the agreement as this partially completed sign hanging at a prominent downtown intersection has remained an eyesore for more than three years.

  Although this long-running legal fight has ended, the controversy continues. It is unfortunate that this billboard should have been handled as a simple zoning variance issue. Instead, an unconventional permitting process eventually led to the dismissal of two zoning commissioners and the URA Director. The removal of this sign validates the position taken by Councilmen Shields, Peduto, Burgess, Kraus and Dowd, who were sued for their opposition to this billboard. These councilmen should be commended for defending the people’s right to due process in the well established zoning process.

 The story of this billboard is a lesson as to why it is important to carefully consider the consequences of allowing electronic billboards in our neighborhoods. Once you allow billboards to be built, they are nearly impossible to get rid off. Scenic Pittsburgh is moving forward to remove other illegal billboards, but because of state law, most billboards in Pittsburgh enjoy grandfathered legal status. Hundreds of non-conforming billboards would be illegal otherwise.

  Rand McNally, Forbes, and The Economist recognize Pittsburgh as among the best. It is time to take a close look at what makes Pittsburgh exceptional. For many years our riverbanks and skylines where dominated by commercial interests but the “smoky city” eventually reclaimed its riverbanks and skylines. Today we bring our
visitors to the overlooks to gaze down on our proud city. This happened because of an advanced understanding of the value of these resources and the vision of a better Pittsburgh.

  In the vision of a better Pittsburgh, where do billboards fit? How much of our reclaimed city should we surrender to corporate interests? What do electronic billboards contribute to riverbanks and skylines of our scenic city? Do you want an electronic billboard in your neighborhood? These questions are not rhetorical, and will soon be up for debate in City Council where their decision will affect Pittsburgh’s image for another century.

Mike Dawida
Executive Director

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Congratulations to the citizens of the City of Pittsburgh who will finally soon be able to enjoy their Downtown without this eyesore.

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