Burns introduces bill to ban use of public funds for campaign activities

Legislation stems from Johnstown charter amendment incident

HARRISBURG, June 22 – Following through on his efforts to clean up government and protect the integrity of the election process, state Rep. Frank Burns today introduced his legislation, HB 2706, that would ban the use of public funds to influence voters on election ballot questions.

Burns, who has introduced or supported other good-government bills in the past, first floated the idea earlier this year after he learned that Johnstown spent thousands of dollars in city funds to advocate for changes to the city charter on the November ballot. The city was later fined $500 for failing to report campaign expenses related to the mailers.

“When I heard the city of Johnstown was being fined for not filing a campaign expense report, my first thought was it’s illegal for the city to use taxpayer money for political campaigns. I was shocked to learn there is nothing in the law explicitly preventing the city from spending your tax dollars on elections,” Burns said. “To me, public officials using tax dollars to try and sway votes on ballot questions is a clear conflict of interest – one which only further undermines the trust people have in government. It’s time for things like this to end.”

According to reports, shortly before the 2021 general election, then-interim Johnstown City Manager Dan Penatzer used approximately $2,600 in taxpayer money to send 9,544 mailers urging residents to “Vote YES to Charter Amendments!” that appeared on the ballot. One of the charter amendments in question sought to allow a city manager to live outside city limits.

“My bill would still allow them to provide neutral, educational facts about a ballot question, ensuring that voters have access to unbiased information,” Burns said. “But what it would do is put an end to people using tax dollars for campaign activities – and help restore public trust in the system.”