In March, state Attorney General Mike Fisher charged Fourth Ward leader Carol Campbell, 61st Ward leader Robert J. McGowan Jr., and 47th Ward leader George Brooks with violations of the Election Code and failure to file reports. The charges came after a grand jury issued a report about the practice of giving street money to ward leaders to influence judicial elections.
After a two-year probe, the grand jury concluded that some street money in the 1997 and 1999 judicial races could not be accounted for. The 2001 primary was the first judicial election since the probe began.
Fisher also charged the Rev. Randall E. McCaskill, former leader of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, with failing to file finance reports for his organization and with theft.
Trial dates have not been set. The misdemeanor charges faced by the ward leaders are unlikely to result in either jail time or significant fines.
Campbell, Brooks and McGowan have filed reports for the primary election. But Fisher's office expressed concern that some ward leaders had not filed.
"As a follow-up to our initial investigation, we will be monitoring the follow-through of ward leaders filing their campaign-expense reports as required by law," said Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office. "Certainly after our investigation and the publicity surrounding the grand-jury report, the ward leaders cannot use ignorance of the law as an excuse any more."
The grand-jury report criticized the weak enforcement mechanisms in current campaign-finance laws. Although fines up to $250 are imposed for filing late, there is no method of collecting the fines from people who are not paid officeholders. Fines are withheld from the salaries of those who do hold paid offices.
Under state law, failure by the treasurer of a political committee to file an expense account is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The law does not stipulate how long overdue a filing must be for the criminal penalty to kick in.
Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham has left it up to the state to prosecute under that provision.
"Because of the potential conflicts of interest with our office, the state has been handling those kinds of prosecutions," said Cathie Abookire, a spokeswoman for Abraham.
Also among the ward leaders who have not filed reports of their primary spending are State Rep. Michael Horsey, State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, City Councilman Darrell Clarke, and Register of Wills Ron Donatucci.
Republican ward leaders tend not to file ward finance reports because judicial candidates tend to give money to the Republican City Committee, not to the wards. Ward committees that have not collected or spent funds need not file reports.
U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, who is also a Democratic ward leader, has not yet filed his report. He said he intends but is not required to do so because he did not take money from judicial candidates for his ward.
"I will file when I talk to my treasurer," Brady said. "I have a campaign committee, but I don't take money from any candidates."
Some ward leaders said they were late in filing merely for technical reasons.
"My treasurer was on vacation for two weeks," said Donatucci. "It's the law, and it's got to be obeyed. It's part of the responsibility of the job."
Those who did not file but whose wards received money from candidates, according to judicial reports, include 12th Ward leader Gregory Paulmier; 16th Ward leader Ann Moss; 18th Ward leader Helen Farrell; 22d Ward leader Robert Vance; 23d Ward leader Timothy Savage; 27th Ward leader Kevin Fassett; 33d Ward leader Donna Aument; 37th Ward leader Eleanor Brown; and Michael Sullivan, leader of Ward 39B.
Samuel Rappaport, leader of the Fifth Ward, also did not file a report. Rappaport said he is only required to file annually because his committee is registered as a political action committee.
Some ward leaders also have not filed their annual reports of spending for 2000, which were due in March.
"Obviously, there's a problem," said Frederick L. Voigt, director of the Committee of Seventy, a government watchdog group. "If you're going to take the money, you're obligated to file."
Clea Benson's e-mail address is email@example.com.