Guest editorial | Debates are chance to minimize money’s role in elections | Editorials

The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.

Pennsylvania is one of the most important states in national politics – even in a year when only state races are on the top of the ticket.

With less than a month until the primary election, the contests for governor and U.S. senator are heating up, both in rhetoric and money.

A Spotlight PA investigation found more than $13 million raised between the nine Republican candidates for governor. On the Democratic side, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the only candidate but, between the $13.4 million he brought into the campaign in January and the $4.5 million he has raised so far in 2022, he is far ahead of whoever his opponent will be.

This is far less than the $36.6 million Gov. Tom Wolf spent on his first primary, but more in keeping with the combined $30 million spent by Ed Rendell and now U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. in their 2002 fight for the Democratic nomination.

Then there’s the battle over the seat being left by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The crowded field on both sides has a lot of money in play, with more than $60 million between 24 candidates.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the former mayor of Braddock, has brought in more than anyone else running, with just under $15 million raised and more than $10.7 million spent as of March 31. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb comes in a distant second in the party with $5.6 million raised and $4.2 million spent.

Among Republicans, celebrity doctor and talk show host Mehmet Oz has spent more than anyone else, with $10.8 million in expenses, but he has collected more than anyone else in the GOP, with $13.4 million. Dave McCormick is close behind with $11 million raised and $9.5 million spent.

Does money matter? It shouldn’t, but it usually does because it buys the opportunity to put a candidate’s message in front of the people as often and as loudly as possible.

The counter to that are the opportunities when candidates stand together, answering the same questions and defending their records and decisions in real time. Debates give that chance. The Tribune-Review co-sponsored the recent debate between five Republican gubernatorial candidates. That was followed up by Senate and lieutenant governor debates.

If you didn’t see them live, they are still available online.

People often are skeptical of the political process. They look at the money raised for it, piling up in the millions, and can dismiss the whole affair as a financial transaction.

The antidote to that is participation – not just at the ballot box but during the days leading up to the election. The key to minimizing the effect of money in politics is an electorate who has heard the candidates’ messages from their own mouths rather than in ad campaigns and commercials.

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