Council OKs new rules covering PAC contributions

Mayor Nutter signs new law as Councilwoman Marian Tasco looks on.
Mayor Nutter signs new law as Councilwoman Marian Tasco looks on.
Posted: April 15, 2011

City Council yesterday passed legislation to close a campaign-finance loophole that has allowed political-action committees to contribute to city candidates in amounts exceeding the legal limit of $10,600.

Mayor Nutter swiftly signed the bill into law, saying he wanted to move quickly because the primary- election cycle was under way.

"This is creating a consistency," Nutter said.

The legislation, put forth by the Nutter administration in February, had been held up for several weeks by Councilman Bill Green, who said he wanted to fine-tune the language.

Green's move drew scrutiny because he has received multiple contributions in excess of legal limits from the powerful city electricians union, Local 98, via a series of committees that receive substantial funding from the union's main PAC.

As the Daily News first reported, last year the union's main PAC, the Committee on Political Education, gave $10,000 directly to Green's campaign. The PAC also provided the bulk of the funding that allowed three other, more obscure PACs - Building a Better Philadelphia, the Blarney PAC and Concerned Irish Americans of Philadelphia - to write $10,000 checks for Green's re-election campaign on the same day in early December.

Green said that his contributions to date were legal and that in the future he would not knowingly take contributions that were "pass-through" funds from another PAC.

"Since the delay, we have not taken any contributions that would violate the law as the administration defines it," Green said.

When Council wrote the city's contribution limits in 2005, it recognized the potential for individual donors to evade the contribution limits by giving money through multiple PACs. But the ordinance did not include the same language for PAC donations made through related PACs.

Ethics Board Executive Director Shane Creamer said the board would work on a detailed written regulation that would spell out how the new restriction will work.

"There are going to be proof challenges for us on an evidentiary level," Creamer said. "It may be difficult to prove that this is occurring. We can follow the money and take it from there."

John Dougherty, business manager for Local 98, shot back at the criticism of his union yesterday, saying he had no oversight of PACs that receive funds from Local 98 and did not direct those PACs to make specific campaign contributions.

"Absolutely not," he said. "You're insinuating that we're breaking the law here. I'm the most vetted guy here. It's an insult to me personally that you would state this."

Dougherty said that, moving forward, Local 98 would observe the laws on the books. But he questioned whether this issue was a top priority for residents.

"Whatever the laws are, we do. I think it's humorous that we're worried about me following the law, and we can't find time to hold hearings on DROP," he said, referring to the city's controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan.

Also, Council yesterday gave final passage to legislation from Councilman Jim Kenney that will ask voters in November to approve the creation of a city rainy-day fund to help ease future budget woes.