HARRISBURG - A ruling that a state Supreme Court candidate need not disclose investments and debts jointly held with his spouse creates a "gaping loophole" for political candidates seeking to avoid public scrutiny, the state Ethics Commission says.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the Supreme Court, the commission argued that the state Ethics Act requires candidates and public officials to disclose all significant income and debts, regardless of their marital status or whether their spouses also have an interest.
The brief deals with an appeal filed to the state's top court concerning a lower court ruling that excused Supreme Court candidate Michael L. Krancer for failing to disclose investments and debts held jointly with his wife.
"If the lower court decision is allowed to stand, a gaping loophole will be created that will enable any married candidate or public official to circumvent the financial-disclosure requirements by simply placing all income-producing assets and all financial obligations in joint names with the spouse," lawyer Robin Hittie wrote.
Krancer, of Bryn Mawr, former chairman and chief judge of the state Environmental Hearing Board, is one of three Republicans seeking the nomination to run for a Supreme Court post in the May 15 primary.
In rejecting the challenge to his nomination petition last week, Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James R. Kelley said the ethics law and the instruction sheet for completing the annual statements of financial interests were silent on the subject of jointly held income and obligations. Therefore, he said, Krancer's belief that he need not disclose such information was reasonable.
The state Ethics Act requires the disclosure of income sources of $1,300 or more and the sources and interest rates of debts of more than $6,500. It does not require the disclosure of amounts.
Krancer, a great-nephew of the late publisher and philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg, listed the state government - which paid his $127,000 salary on the environmental board - as his only income source in 2006.
The woman seeking to have Krancer tossed off the ballot, retired Philadelphia Family Court employee Jaime J. Hughes-Harbson, argued that he must have had other, unreported income to afford his family home in Bryn Mawr, on which property taxes alone cost $42,000 a year.
At a hearing in March, Krancer acknowledged that he and his wife had more than $10,000 in income from capital gains, interest and dividends last year, as well as a car loan that he cosigned.
Krancer's lawyer did not return telephone calls seeking comment yesterday.
The Ethics Commission filing echoes arguments made by Hughes-Harbson's lawyers in their appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Republican State Committee has endorsed Krancer and state Superior Court Judge Maureen Lally-Green for two openings on the Supreme Court.
Also competing in the GOP primary is Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Paul P. Panepinto.