NINETEEN candidates who ran in this year's Philadelphia primary, including four Council members, owed the City Commissioners Office a combined total of more than $17,500 in fines for campaign-finance violations at the start of this week.
Perhaps an even bigger problem: These overdue fines raise questions about the enforcement of state campaign-finance law in Philadelphia.
After being contacted by It's Our Money, Councilman Darrell Clarke paid a $1,000 fine for failing to file certain campaign-finance reports.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez paid $160 for filing two reports late.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown still owes $1,500 for filing late reports.
Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. owes $750 for not filing some reports.
Tim Dowling, elections finance and document specialist at the commissioners office, said he notified the candidates about their fines in July.
Dowling said he sent several additional letters since then that the candidates have "chosen to ignore."
Three of the Council members said they'd never seen Dowling's letters.
Brown said that the address on a recent letter from Dowling had her campaign's post-office box but that she hadn't received it. Her attorney, Abbe Fletman, said she has since entered into a payment plan with the commissioners and would pay the fines by December.
Jones also said he had not received the letters, though he confirmed that the address on a recent letter was his home address.
He said he is now in contact with the commissioners because he believes that he filed some of the reports correctly.
If it turns out he's wrong, he said, "we'll pay it."
Clarke said he had not received the letters, though he confirmed the listed address was correct. "We should have been more on top of it," he said.
Why didn't anything happen to these candidates when they failed to pay their fines?
If a candidate fails to pay the fines, the commissioners can go through the District Attorney's Office to get court action. (The city's Ethics Board can take candidates to court for campaign violations, but the board enforces city campaign laws. The commissioners enforce state campaign laws.)
Dowling said the D.A.'s office has failed to respond aggressively to campaign-finance violations since Lynne Abraham headed it. Abraham argued that she couldn't pursue more campaign and "street money" violations due to limited resources, as well as a political conflict stemming from her relationship with ward leaders.
Since Seth Williams replaced her, Dowling said, he has referred at least two campaign-finance violations to the office, with no results.
D.A. spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson wrote in a statement: "If we determine that a crime was committed we would review it for prosecutorial merit. As for any letters sent to this office by Mr. Dowling neither the D.A. nor [the D.A.'s head of special investigations Curtis] Douglas have any record of any correspondence."
For this recent batch of violations, Dowling decided to take another tack. He said he is talking with the city's Law Department to determine if it can collect the fines.