Feb. 24, 2006--In hopes of putting an end to a "pay-to-play" era, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce is asking its members to limit their political donations to candidates in the city's upcoming mayoral election.

The Chamber of Commerce's 130-member board voted unanimously on Feb. 16 to apply the rules immediately for the 2007 election, making it the first major organization in the city to issue such a limit.

Limits have been set at $2,500 per person and $10,000 per company to try to level the playing field for local small businesses, who generally can't match the much larger contributions given by bigger competitors.

"Businesses want to put this pay-for-play and wretched history behind them," said Mark Schweiker, the chamber's president and CEO.

The plan has already garnered support from city officials who are pushing for more regulated elections. "Public financing of elections has proven that you can mitigate the tremendous influence of money in politics while simultaneously increasing broad public assess to those who govern," State Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), a former mayoral candidate, said in a statement.

Evans, who is joined by City Council president Anna Verna and Councilwoman Marian Tasco in supporting the chamber's move, cited New York, Los Angeles, and Miami as cities that currently have public financing of campaigns.

Although City Council passed an ordinance in December 2005, which refined an earlier law already limiting campaign contributions, candidates have been able to exploit a loophole by not officially declaring their candidacies. Politicians who float the idea of running for mayor can essentially start collecting donations immediately.

Because of the loophole, the chamber is also asking potential candidates to hold off on passing around their tin cup until they officially announcing their candidacies.

Currently there is no clear-cut definition from the City Council that pinpoints when a person running for mayor officially becomes a candidate.