City GOP benefits from Parking Authority The agency's workers and consultants have given at least $241,000 to committees since Republicans took it over.

Posted: November 26, 2007

Though the Philadelphia Parking Authority has fallen short in its promised funding for city schools, it certainly has been a boon for the Philadelphia Republican Party.

Authority employees and consultants have contributed at least $214,000 to the Republican City Committee since 2001, according to an Inquirer analysis of campaign finance data.

The contributions this year have reached at least $33,210, or more than 14 percent of the party's total.

Those figures don't include money that those same employees and contractors have given to top Republican ward leaders, who happen to run the Parking Authority.

Take the authority's executive director, Vincent Fenerty Jr.

Authority employees and consultants - including many lifelong Democrats who live nowhere near Fenerty's ward, which includes Kensington and Port Richmond - have made at least 189 contributions to his ward since 2001, totaling more than $27,000.

Fenerty declined to discuss the issue, and so did authority spokeswoman Linda Miller.

But city GOP chairman Vito F. Canuso had an explanation for the employees' generosity.

"They're good citizens," he said.

Others suggest that they are simply good employees - patronage employees, that is, who are fully expected to contribute to the party that controls their jobs.

Since 2001, when State Rep. John Perzel (R., Phila.) orchestrated a takeover of the authority, the agency has doubled its staff and raised its revenue an inflation-adjusted 54 percent.

But that growth has yielded little extra money for the schools, the city and the airport, which are designated as the financial beneficiaries of the Parking Authority.

In recent articles, The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News have highlighted some questionable spending practices at the authority, including generous executive salaries, lucrative and seemingly redundant consulting contracts, the purchase of SUVs for use by managers, and overstaffing.

Gov. Rendell has called for a comprehensive audit of the authority, while the agency has responded by taking vehicles away from 18 managers, announcing plans to reduce its administrative staff through attrition, and beginning a review of its consulting contracts.

But Fenerty has defended the agency's payroll growth, explaining that 500 jobs have been created to meet new responsibilities, such as taxi regulation, and to handle work once performed by contractors.

Whatever the reasons, most of the positions were filled by loyal Republicans - including at least 145 GOP officials - recommended by political patrons. Democrats still get hired, but in lower numbers, and they are far less generous to their party, contributing just $2,400 this year to the city Democratic committee.

Republican employees are strongly encouraged to buy tickets totaling $285 to three annual GOP events, according to four authority sources. The sources - who asked to remain anonymous, fearing retribution at work - said they felt pressure to make contributions to the Republican committee or Fenerty's ward.

"There's a lot of people in the political system who feel that kind of pressure, like lobbyists," said Zack Stalberg, chief executive officer of the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan ethics watchdog. "But the most fundamental example is a patronage worker, who usually serves at the whim of the agency and can fall through a trapdoor in a minute."

He likened the pressure patronage workers feel to pay-to-play, the expectation that political contributions are necessary to win government contracts. And like pay-to-play, the practice has its costs.

"What you end up with is a whole lot more employees than you really need, and there's a decent chance you're overpaying them because you have to cover this hidden tax of taking care of the patron," Stalberg said.

In addition to the city Republican Party and Fenerty's 31st Ward committee, the Parking Authority's chief political allies have benefited. Since 2001, Perzel's campaign committee has collected at least $25,000 from agency employees and consultants. State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.) - who has strong ties to authority executive Carl Ciglar - has taken in $13,700. State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), whose brother works at the authority, has amassed at least $13,000.

Except for Evans, Democrats have been an afterthought for agency employees. Since 2001, authority workers and consultants have sent $7,800 to Rendell, $3,400 to Mayor Street, and $21,000 to the city's Democratic Party.

Canuso, the Republican chairman, said he saw the level of contributions as relatively minor and evidence that the media's portrayal of the Parking Authority as a patronage den was overblown.

"You've reported that it was a patronage mill for the Republican City Committee, and if we're only getting 14 percent, it looks like it's inconsistent with your reports," he said.

More than 150,000 Republicans are registered in Philadelphia. The Parking Authority has a staff of 1,050, and not all are Republicans.

In 2004, the Daily News reported that Fenerty had pressured members of his staff to make donations, prompting an internal probe and leading the FBI to interview at least one employee. The FBI's query went nowhere, however, and the Parking Authority has refused to release the results of its internal inquiry.

State law forbids employers to demand contributions of workers, a once widespread practice known as "macing."

The four Parking Authority sources said that though there still was pressure to contribute to the Republican City Committee, the appeals had become more subtle.

"They were very blatant about passing the hat, but then they did an about-face," one administrative source said. With the about-face, the source said, solicitations were no longer made on authority time or on authority property.

But the obligation to contribute is still felt, the source said.

A different source, a parking enforcement officer, recalled being told to attend a meeting with other recent hires at the Republican Club on Frankford Avenue. There, the source said, a Parking Authority official gave the new recruits a brief speech.

"He went up there and said, 'If you do your job and pay for your tickets, you can get promoted,' " said the source, who supplied The Inquirer with a ticket the source had recently purchased to a Republican fund-raiser.

Canuso, the GOP chairman, said he was not aware of any complaints from Parking Authority employees who felt inappropriate pressure to contribute.

Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 215-854-2827 or pkerkstra@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Ashwin Verghese contributed to this article.

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