Arlen Specter: Extra Money for Swing State Status

by Katie P. Kelly // Published September 28, 2011
As someone who has officially been a Pennsylvanian all of her life until this month, I can say that the debate over Electoral College reform occurring across Pennsylvania has had my close attention. All of us can learn from what we’re hearing about in the Electoral College debate and why we need to reform our current rules.

Yesterday, the CapitolWire reported on former Senator Arlen Specter’s disapproval of State Senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi’s proposal to divide Electoral College votes by congressional district (as will be discussed during the State Government Committee’s public hearing next week Tuesday, October 4th). What was revealing -- indeed, shocking, for those who believe American democracy should not play favorites -- is that Specter opposed Pileggi’s plan for crassly self-interested reasons and not democratic ones.

The reporter wrote that “Specter, a 28-year- Republican legislator who finished as a Democrat, negotiated for funding for Pennsylvania with five presidents in his five terms, as he became the longest-serving senator in commonwealth history. He says he always had the full attention of presidents as to what funding the state needed when they ran for re-election because of the size of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College prize.”

Sen. Specter then was quoted directly as saying that: 

“I think it’d be very bad for Pennsylvania because we wouldn’t attract attention from Washington on important funding projects for the state. We are trying to get more funding now for the deepening of the port [of Philadelphia]. When I was on the Appropriations Committee, we got $77 million over the years …We are trying to get the president to do more."

“Under the current electoral system, [President] Obama has good reason to give us the money to carry Pennsylvania. Because presidents think that way, it affects their decisions. … In 2004, when I ran with [President George W.] Bush, he … came to Pennsylvania 44 times, and he was looking for items the state needed to help him win the state. … It’s undesirable to change the system so presidents won’t be asking us always for what we need, what they can do for us.”

In other words, he says that Pennsylvania’s winner-take-all Electoral College rules should not be changed because Pennsylvania gains privileged status as a swing state, which leads incumbent presidents and would-be presidents to give the state special favors – very concrete ones involving taxpayer dollars. This shows that the system can be directly corrupting, with tax dollars going to Pennsylvania solely because it matters more to candidates than the great majority of states, as they are not competitive in presidential races. 

As a former Pennsylvanian and an American, what I seek in voting for president is fair representation and a fair election. I don’t want a system that gives an edge to one party over another. I don’t want a system that gives people of one state an edge over another. I want my vote to count, but I only think its fair if the vote of every American counts. 

The current system and the congressional district system both reward behind the scenes pandering for strategic votes and not the votes of the American people. If anyone has ever suspected, Specter made it clear: the system serves special interests. 

This is why FairVote's initiatives and ideology are relevant to Americans. The organization sees the bigger picture. It has realistic goals that transform the structure to make the American people and their votes matter. Research like the Fuzzy Math report and the Presidential Election Inequality report  pinpoint the misrepresentations that stem from bad policies like both the current winner take all rules and Pileggi's congressional district plan. 

Sen. Specter, in fact, has agreed with FairVote that a national popular vote for president is the fairest way to elect the president. In November 2000, he announced he would support direct election of the president, saying that, “A basic principle of democracy is that a majority should rule,”

Specter is right. If we support FairVote’s plans, like a National Popular Vote for president, we can right the wrongs of the current system and utilize our electoral right in a way that serves all of us: the American people.