Councilwoman admits city ethics violations

Posted: January 29, 2013

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown used $3,300 in campaign funds to repay a personal loan from Chaka Fattah Jr., son of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, and covered it up as a payment to a printing firm, she admitted in a settlement agreement released Monday by the Board of Ethics.

Brown admitted dozens of other omissions, misstatements and misrepresentations in her campaign finance reports and personal financial disclosure forms for 2010 and 2011, when she was seeking a fourth Council term.

Brown and her campaign committee, Friends of Blondell Reynolds Brown, agreed to a record $48,834 in fines and repayments. Much of this was for taking excessive election contributions from Progressive Agenda PAC, an ostensibly-independent PAC run by Brown's 2011 campaign manager, John D. McDaniel.

Also in 2011, Progressive Agenda PAC received $59,700 for work on Mayor Nutter's reelection.

Despite a checkered city work history, including violation of the City Charter's ban on political activity, Nutter recommended McDaniel for a city job in 2012. He draws $87,125 a year as an assistant managing director in charge of a volunteer information program at Philadelphia International Airport.

The settlement agreement said Brown needed about $30,000 in 2010 to avoid foreclosure on her home. She raised most of it, but still needed $3,000 to $4,000 and approached Rep. Fattah, a long-time mentor.

Shortly thereafter, the Ethics Board said, she received a call from Fattah Jr., who gave her a $3,300 check. Brown instructed McDaniel to repay Fattah with campaign funds, according to the settlement agreement.

Among other Ethics Board disclosures:

– During the 2011 campaign, Brown's committee failed to disclose 27 contributions totaling $36,034, including $13,500 in cash from sources which were not identified.

- Brown admitted four instances in which she deposited campaign contributions, totaling $1,400, into her personal bank account.

–The campaign failed to disclose 74 expenditures, including $18,413 to McDaniel and $10,250 to Progressive Agenda. It made more than $45,000 in unexplained cash withdrawals, also left out of its public reports.

- To hide the Brown campaign's involvement in a primary ballot challenge against one of her opponents, the campaign paid $1,116 to the Progressive Agenda PAC as a "contribution." The PAC then paid the money to the lawyer who had handled the challenge, Sharon Losier.

– Brown repeatedly violated the city's financial disclosure requirements by failing to list various income sources, including rental income, payments from McDaniel, the loan from Fattah Jr., a $500 honorarium from the Hardy Williams Education Fund, and a $2,500 award from the Obermayer law firm, given to an outstanding alumna of the Philadelphia public schools.

Brown refused to talk to reporters Monday. She issued a news release saying she had "cooperated fully with the Board of Ethics in an effort to clear up any oversight and/or omissions made . . .so that my campaign may begin with a clean slate effective immediately. . ."

"I take full responsibility for the conduct of my campaign and have taken corrective steps to ensure that future reporting is clear and accurate," she continued. "The persons responsible for these errors have been removed from any responsibilities regarding the Friends of Blondell Reynolds Brown and I have implemented strict guidelines and practices to ensure these errors will not be repeated."

She described her the use of campaign money to repay her $3,300 loan from Fattah as "an error in judgment." "I deeply regret this decision, which I voluntarily brought to the attention of the Board of Ethics. Most important: I apologize to my supporters and my colleagues, whose trust I value deeply. I will do everything in my power to make amends."

McDaniel's PAC received $59,700 from Mayor Nutter's campaign in 2011, including $33,200 for circulating petitions before the primary election, and a $26,500 "contribution" a month before the general election.

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said the mayor had not been aware of the Ethics Board probe but took the issues "very, very seriously." He said the administration "will fully and completely review the report and take appropriate action."

McDaniel had worked for the city for several years during the administration of former Mayor John F. Street. He was accused of stealing $13,000 from a nonprofit agency, the Pennsylvania Black Conference for Higher Education, but a police complaint was dropped when he paid $13,000 in a settlement agreement. He resigned from that earlier job after the Inquirer reported he had received $450 in consulting fees from a judicial candidate while on the city payroll.

Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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