A political action committee supported primarily by Gov. Rendell stands accused of circumventing city campaign-finance rules and failing to disclose contributions to, among others, three of five Democratic candidates in the 2007 Philadelphia mayor's race.
The Philadelphia Board of Ethics went to court Tuesday to compel the PAC - Pennsylvanians for Better Leadership - to pay $30,000 in fines and amend its campaign-finance reports to show the missing information.
"You have a politically connected and well-funded PAC that has been operating outside of the law by failing to make the required disclosures," said Shane Creamer, executive director of the ethics board. As a result, he said, "The public hasn't had an opportunity to understand what this PAC has been doing."
Kevin C. Watson, the PAC's treasurer, was also named in the lawsuit. He did not return a call yesterday. Watson works as a legislative aide in the Philadelphia office of Republican U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.
The lawsuit, which the ethics board filed in Common Pleas Court, alleges 20 violations committed in 2007. The board did not allege any wrongdoing by Rendell, a Democrat, who donated $160,000 to the PAC in 2007.
Specifically, the suit cited 13 instances in which the PAC did not reveal $49,000 worth of donations it made to city, state, and federal candidates. Among them were U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (who received $5,000 on March 1, 2007); U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah ($2,000 on March 9, 2007); and state Rep. Dwight Evans ($10,000 on March 1, 2007). All were candidates in the Democratic mayoral primary.
Creamer said the ethics board learned of the unreported donations through bank records it subpoenaed from the PAC.
Four other alleged violations stem from contributions that the PAC included in a campaign-finance report but that were never actually made. For instance, the PAC reported a May 4, 2007, donation of $10,000 to One Step Closer, a group that funded TV ads attacking Mayor Nutter during the primary campaign. But according to the petition, no record of that contribution existed in the PAC's bank records.
The ethics board also said the PAC failed to list three contributions it received. Two, totaling $30,000, were made by insurance executive Andre Duggin, a Republican and one of Rendell's longtime financial backers. A third contribution, for $15,000, came from the campaign committee of Allegheny County Executive Don Onorato, a Democrat.
Rendell, the PAC's biggest funder by far, donated $70,000 on April 3, 2007. That contribution is not in question because the PAC disclosed it.
However, the governor also gave the PAC an additional $85,000 in December that year. The PAC did not report that donation, but also has not filed a campaign-finance report since November 2007.
"The governor has always given financial support to candidates both directly and indirectly," Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said. "The governor believes the PAC officers knew the rules and he assumed they followed them in the same way he always has. He had no way of knowing about the alleged wrongdoing."
Pennsylvanians for Better Leadership was first registered with the state in 2003.
To date, though, it has not registered with the city, which may constitute another violation, according to Tim Dowling, a document specialist with the City Commissioner's Office.
Dowling also said the PAC would be fined an additional $500 for missing the filing deadlines for two 2007 reports.
According to campaign-finance records, the PAC made 12 donations in 2008 but filed no reports with the city or state. Among those receiving money: Evans, who took in a total of $11,000, and South Philadelphia union leader John Dougherty, a former state Senate candidate. He received $1,000.