Move on for DRPA to reveal vendors' political donations

Posted: August 01, 2014

The secrecy surrounding political contributions made by companies working for the Delaware River Port Authority may soon be lifted.

The DRPA's audit committee on Wednesday reviewed a proposal to restore public access to vendors' political contributions.

The proposal, by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, will get another hearing by the audit committee next month. If approved by the panel, it will be sent to the full DRPA board for a vote.

Under the DRPA's current rules, adopted in November 2012, contractors doing or seeking business with DRPA must disclose to the agency any political contributions made in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The DRPA, however, withholds those reports from the public.

The DRPA created the secrecy policy in its new public-right-to-know rules, claiming it was part of a move "to promote greater transparency and accountability in its dealings and communications with the public, recognizing that an informed citizenry enriches the function of government."

The board gave DRPA inspector general Thomas Raftery III the job of reviewing contractors' contribution disclosures. But it kept them secret, arguing that vendors might be discouraged from bidding if the information were made public.

New Jersey's "pay-to-play" laws require contractors of state agencies to disclose their political contributions, which must be a matter of public record.

But the Camden-based DRPA, as a bistate creation of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is not bound by the pay-to-play or right-to-know laws of either state.

The audit committee on Wednesday also waded once again into a long-standing dispute over the Office of Inspector General.

The fight over establishing standard operating procedures, which affects Raftery's ability to conduct internal audits, has been tied up in the committee since shortly after Raftery was hired in January 2012.

The audit committee also has been unable to agree on a set of rules for itself, and a new ethics policy for the DRPA is another victim of the internal standoff.

Raftery said Wednesday he is rescinding his 2012 certification of ethics reforms because they have not been approved by the committee, although they were supposed to have been approved in April 2013.

"There are some issues from the New Jersey side," said Christopher Gibson, the Archer & Greiner attorney who advises the New Jersey commissioners on the bistate DRPA board. "I have a great number of comments . . . but they are not appropriate for public session."

Gibson said he needed to review the proposed ethics policy with Jeffrey L. Nash, the DRPA vice chairman and leader of the New Jersey delegation.

The committee took its debate behind closed doors after about 30 minutes of public discussion.


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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