Chapter 12:
Who Represents You?

Political Parties

Individual political parties in Pennsylvania represent the many different viewpoints of residents in our state. There are at least 15 political parties active in Pennsylvania. Each of them has a website you can access to learn more about that political party.

You will not find how political parties work in the Constitution. The Pennsylvania Constitution does not set up or provide for political parties. Yet, soon after the nation and Pennsylvania were established political parties began to appear. There have been parties for over 200 years and for most of that time two major parties were rivals. More information about political parties is available at http://www.dos.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/voter_registration_statistics/12725.

Pennsylvania Legislators

Most often persons run for office as part of a political party. When elected they represent a “district” which is a specific region in Pennsylvania. These legislators then represent the people who live in that district.

You can follow the work of the General Assembly at www.legis.state.pa.us/ to see how your representative votes on issues. You can also see when votes are scheduled and when committees meet. This site will also show you how to contact legislators.

Sometimes there is a change in who represents you that is not caused by an election. Every ten years the districts of those who represent you may change. When this happens a different group of voters from a changed region elects a representative. You can find the most recent districts at www.redistricting.state.pa.us/Maps/House.cfm.

You may want to know where candidates receive their financial support for elections. Candidates for state-wide offices, including Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Senators, and Representatives must list their sources of money and submit reports to the Pennsylvania Department of State. The Department of State posts these reports in a database that can be accessed at any time at the following web address: https://www.campaignfinanceonline.state.pa.us/Pages/CampaignFinanceHome.aspx. There is a wealth of information about your elected representation at www.house.state.pa.us/ and www.pasen.gov.

How to Find Your Representatives

You may need to find out who represents you. The Pennsylvania General Assembly website provides a tool for you to search for your legislator. You can search by address, by county, or through the use of an interactive map. This tool is found at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/. Or, you can access the VotesPA.com website at http://www.votespa.com/portal/server.pt/community/home/13514. Also the Pennsylvania General Assembly Website has a “Find Your Legislator” option.

Civic and Non-Profit Organizations

Some groups, like churches and non-profit organizations, are not allowed to lobby in Pennsylvania. If they do they may lose their ability to not pay taxes. According to the Internal Revenue Service:

“An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.”

Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.”

Government Offices

Sometimes people who work for the state represent you. Examples include those offices that take complaints and help solve problems. For instance, you can get help from the state Attorney General’s Office with a consumer complaint (see http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/complaints.aspx?id=451) the Insurance Department for consumer services (see http://www.insurance.pa.gov/portal/server.pt/community/services_for_consumers/5232), or get documents through the Right to Know Office (see openrecords.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/).

Another example is the Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC). The IRRC was set up by the General Assembly to see that state agencies use laws as intended. They can veto any rule made that does not fit with what was wanted by the General Assembly. They also see that regulations are written in a way that people can understand and that they do not conflict with other laws. The IRRC takes public comments and allows persons to speak at its meetings when a rule is being studied. You can see how the IRRC works at www.irrc.state.pa.us/.

Role of Lobbyists

Lobbyists play a role in the legislative process, not only in Pennsylvania but in all states and in Washington DC. Who is a lobbyist? In Pennsylvania the answer is found in the Lobbying Registration and Regulation Act. A lobbyist is “any natural person who is employed or engaged for compensation, by any other person or any partnership, committee, association, corporation or any other organization to lobby”. This does not include people who work for the Commonwealth or any other person who acts in the name of Pennsylvania. A lobbyist may also be a person who spends or makes more than $300 in a month as a representative of a group.

These are the only rules in Pennsylvania that restrict the roles of lobbyists or spell out how they can work with those in the executive branch or in the legislature. If you visit Harrisburg, for instance, you will see lobbyists meeting with state officials, talking in front of committee hearings, and sharing information with the general public. It is their job to tell everyone how proposed laws, or changes to current laws, will help or not help those they represent. Lobbyists will be working with government at each step of a proposed change.

Often citizens view the value (or ethics) of lobbying according to specific issues or organizations with a certain view. That is, lobbying for positions you might agree with is “education” while positions you do not support are seen as special interests. The main question, of course, is whether a lobbying effort is in the best interest of all the people in Pennsylvania (we know it is in the best interest of the lobbying group).

Figuring out things that need change in Pennsylvania and the best way to make those changes has become very complicated. It is hard to understand some issues (economic policy or types of insurance or selling bonds, for example) without lots of study. Often the time and study (and perhaps interest) needed to learn about issues is more than you have. So, organizations or lobbyists do this task.

Sometimes it is difficult for those who work in government to understand everything they are asked to consider. In this sense lobbying is helpful; those we elect have a quick lesson and can let the experts best explain complex issues. But when different lobbyists bring very different opinions and studies to the legislature representatives must match what they hear with what voters want.

Often people from different places in Pennsylvania will see a policy in different ways. Regions that rely on coal mining will see energy issues differently. Communities with major airports will have different interests in transportation policy than those that do not. The same is true for ports, railroads, interstate highways, bridge repairs, and zoning requirements, to name a few.

Most of All, You Represent You

In Chapter 2 (The Importance of Civic Participation) you can see how you can work with the government, including how to be an informed citizen. You can write letters or visit your representatives. You can write an editorial for the newspaper. You can join groups and be active in government.

And, you can join organizations, work with political campaigns, blog, share information, and join conversations on the internet. At the top of this list you can run for office, especially in your community or school district.