Philadelphia Board of Ethics Executive Director Shane Creamer accused Democratic State Sen. Vincent Hughes yesterday of violating the terms of a settlement agreement through comments he made to reporters.
Creamer, in an e-mail to reporters, also alleged that Hughes may have violated the state election code by contributing in cash $10,700 and $5,000 to the 2007 campaign committee of City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., then in a tight three-way contest for the Fourth District seat. State law prohibits cash contributions in excess of $100.
On Jan. 14, Hughes, a senator from Philadelphia since 1994, signed a settlement agreement with the board in which he agreed to pay a $7,500 fine for donating to Jones more than the annual limit of $10,000.
In signing the pact, Hughes admitted making the $10,700 cash contribution to Jones on May 15, 2007, the day of the primary. He also agreed, according to the pact, "not to make any public statements that are inconsistent with the terms of the agreement."
Asked by reporters Wednesday why he made the sizable cash donation, Hughes said he did not view it as a contribution at the time. His attorney said it was an expense by Hughes' campaign to cover election-day operations; Jones' campaign manager used the cash to pay political operatives to distribute sample ballots in support of Jones, Hughes, and about 20 other candidates.
On a campaign-finance report filed at the time, Hughes reported the cash payment as a contribution to Jones' campaign. On Wednesday, he said that that was a mistake and that the report was later amended.
Hughes could not be reached yesterday. His lawyer, Ralph Teti, said, "Nobody is trying to backpedal on the agreement." The senator's comments, he said, were "not meant to undermine or contradict the settlement. It was simply a statement the senator made in response to a question from reporters of why he would do this."
Creamer disputed that view. "The bottom line is that Sen. Hughes gave an unfair advantage to a city candidate who was in a close election. . . . His mischaracterization of his admitted violations is nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public about the seriousness of his committee's actions."
A spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office did not immediately return a call yesterday regarding Creamer's assertion that the cash payments violated state election code. Such a violation is viewed as a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and a jail sentence of up to one year.
Teti dismissed the election-code allegation as a "tempest in a teapot."
"This was a settlement agreement that was entered into in good faith," he said. "We accept the position they put forth of how the transaction is to be viewed. That's the beginning and end of it."