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Judge demands testimony from '527' groups

With less than two weeks left before Philadelphia's May 15 Democratic primary, the city's reinvigorated Board of Ethics persuaded a judge yesterday to demand testimony from treasurers of two committees that donated to Bob Brady's mayoral campaign.

With less than two weeks left before Philadelphia's May 15 Democratic primary, the city's reinvigorated Board of Ethics persuaded a judge yesterday to demand testimony from treasurers of two committees that donated to Bob Brady's mayoral campaign.

Separately, the head of a group running TV ads against Brady's leading rival confirmed that he, too, had been subpoenaed by the ethics board. Alex Z. Talmadge Jr. said he would comply with the request for his group's financial information.

At the board's urging, Common Pleas Judge Gary Glazer yesterday ordered treasurers of two committees to give sworn depositions to the board. Both committees have donated to Brady's campaign; both treasurers had ignored previous subpoenas from the board, the board said in court papers.

The board also said that when a subpoena was served for one of the committees at Brady's West Philadelphia ward headquarters, a man there threw the subpoena out the door.

"We are conducting general inquiries to ensure the various provisions of the campaign-finance law are being complied with," Shane Creamer Jr., the ethic's board's interim executive director, said yesterday.

Kate Philips, Brady's spokeswoman, said the congressman had no connection to the two committees being subpoenaed, or to Talmadge's group. To suggest otherwise, she said, would be "remarkably unfair" and "borderline libelous."

The ethics board, dormant for years, was reconstituted last year as an independent agency in the wake of City Hall's pay-to-play scandal and the resulting calls for greater transparency in government. This is the first election in which the board is exercising its legal authority to police campaign spending, an effort that included a review of 177 political committees.

Campaign donations from two of those committees to Brady and a close ally, City Councilwoman Carol Campbell, led the board to take a closer look - which in turn led to its decision to subpoena the two treasurers, Creamer said.

The first committee, Genesis IV, was founded in 2003 by Campbell, who is also secretary of the city's Democratic Party, which Brady chairs.

While raising nearly $300,000, mostly from judicial candidates, the Genesis committee often failed to file timely campaign-finance reports showing what it had spent, and sometimes filed nothing at all.

In December, Genesis IV gave $20,000 to Brady's mayoral campaign, the most allowed by city law, and $10,000 to Campbell's Council reelection drive. Those donations are what triggered the board's attention - in part, because of the so-called one committee rule: Under the city's 2003 campaign finance law, candidates can raise and spend money through only one committee.

The councilwoman has said she resigned as chair of Genesis IV more than a year ago.

But her brother, Edgar C. Campbell, is the treasurer. Creamer said the board subpoenaed him "to understand more about how this committee operates." He declined to elaborate.

Edgar Campbell failed to show up for an April 24 deposition at the ethics board office, as the subpoena instructed, the board said in court. Edgar Campbell could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The board's second subpoena went to Anthony Cacciavillano, who makes $53,044 a year as an executive assistant on Brady's congressional staff.

Cacciavillano is treasurer of Unity 2001, which like Genesis IV, has a spotty history of filing its finance reports while raising hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In January, Unity 2001 gave $20,000 to Brady's mayoral campaign, and $10,000 to Campbell's campaign. Unity 2001's address is the same Overbrook building that houses the 34th Ward Democratic headquarters, where Brady is ward leader.

When a courier tried to serve a subpoena there on April 17, an unidentified man looked at the document, made a phone call - then tossed the subpoena out the door, the ethics board said in its court filing.

Cacciavillano, too, did not show up for an April 24 deposition. The ethics board appealed to Judge Glazer, who agreed yesterday to enforce both subpoenas, ordering both committees' treasurers to comply.

Cacciavillano did not return a message yesterday left for him with Brady's office. Creamer said Cacciavillano's lawyer, J. Scott O'Keefe, promised his client would show up to be deposed next Monday.

Separately, the board has subpoenaed Talmadge as part of its preliminary look into two so-called 527 committees that have surfaced in the mayor's race.

Talmadge, a former city commissioner who heads a group called Economic Justice Coalition for Truth, said yesterday he was surprised because "I don't know of anything we have done that would elicit a subpoena from them."

"They want to see everything we have - the expenditures and disbursements we've made, the contributions," he said. "I have no problem with that." He also said his group would file a campaign-finance report tomorrow, as required by state law.

The group yesterday bought $35,000 worth of TV time in order to air an ad over the next two days on 6ABC, station records show.

Talmadge said the ad, which attacks mayoral front-runner Tom Knox, was produced by political consultant Ken Smukler. Smukler said he made the ad this week after exiting Brady's campaign on Friday amid controversy over Smukler's admitted efforts to get others to start a "527" committee to bash Knox.

Such committees are nick-named for the section of the tax code that authorizes them. They are barred from coordinating their efforts with a candidate's. Smukler has said he produced the new ad independent of Brady or his campaign.

Talmadge has acknowledged that he stood in for Brady at a campaign forum earlier this year, but says his committee, too, is acting on its own.