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Nutter cuts caps on inauguration, transition gifts

The Phila. Board of Ethics had urged limiting donors to $2,500 and businesses to $10,000.

As of yesterday, Mayor-elect Michael Nutter has to work twice as hard to raise the cash he needs to pay for his inaugural bash and transition activities.

Nutter had committed to generating those dollars by voluntarily adhering to the same donor caps that restricted his campaign fund-raising. Those limited individuals to giving up to $5,000, and businesses and political committees up to $20,000.

But in a specially convened meeting yesterday, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics asked Nutter to go further.

It asked the mayor-elect - who has formed one nonprofit organization to solicit money for his January inaugural events and another to raise funds for his transition work - to halve the caps to their original amounts. (A provision doubling the caps was automatically triggered after Tom Knox, one of five Democrats in last spring's mayoral primary, donated $250,000 of his own money to his campaign.)

Under the recommendation, donors would be limited to giving no more than $2,500 apiece to both nonprofits combined, and law firms and other businesses could give no more than $10,000 combined.

Richard Hayden, a top adviser to Nutter, said yesterday that the mayor-elect had agreed to accept the board's recommendation.

The ethics board has no legal authority over the nonprofits, but Nutter had sought its advice, which resulted in yesterday's meeting.

Earlier, in another ethically conscious move, Nutter had vowed to abide by the caps, even though the nonprofits are not political in purpose and are not required to do so - a point the Ethics Board confirmed.

"We are concerned that solicitations of thousands of dollars, arguably on behalf of the man who is about to be Mayor, from donors, many of which have likely already reached the maximum donation permitted to that same Mayor-elect's election campaign, would present a possible public perception that some donors were attempting to purchase influence with the new Mayor," the board said in a formal opinion it released.

Board chairman Richard Glazer amplified that concern during yesterday's meeting. He said if one entity had given $20,000 to Nutter's political campaign and now gave $20,000 to the nonprofits, "$40,000 is getting close to someone currying favor with the next mayor."

He said that "the policies that created the doubling don't exist now, so there's no legitimate rationale."

The nonprofits do not plan to accept any money from political committees, said an attorney for Nutter, Lawrence J. Beaser.

Although multiple inaugural events are planned - including one around City Hall that will be open to the public, Hayden said - final decisions have not yet been made.

Nutter will not personally solicit funds for either nonprofit, Beaser said.

For the "Nutter Inaugural Committee," those funds will be solicited by the nonprofit's directors: Erica Atwood, Leslie Ann Miller and John R. Saler. All have played roles in Nutter's campaign. The directors of the transition nonprofit, named "A New Day, A New Way," are other Nutter supporters: Hayden, banker Jay Goldstein, St. Martin Torrence.

Beaser said Nutter intended to instruct the nonprofits to publicly disclose their donors in a timely fashion on the Internet.