The Philadelphia Board of Ethics issued a statement yesterday disputing City Councilwoman Maria Quinoñes Sánchez's version of events leading up to a lawsuit the board filed against her last week.
In response to the suit, Sánchez told The Inquirer last week that she initially agreed to pay a fine for violating city campaign-finance rules. She also said the board's executive director told her she had to sign a statement accepting personal liability for the violations.
In a news release from its chairman, Richard Glazer, the board rebutted both of the councilwoman's statements.
The dispute relates to payments made by Sánchez's 2007 campaign committee to another political committee, New Direction Philly.org, to pay for newspaper ads promoting her candidacy. Sánchez's campaign manager, her husband, Tomas, said he arranged for the financing to take advantage of cheaper ad rates New Direction Philly was getting.
The Ethics Board said using New Direction Philly constituted a violation of a rule restricting candidates to using just one political committee for contributions and expenses.
Unable to settle, the board went to court last Thursday to impose a $7,500 fine.
Although Sánchez said in an interview that early on, she had been "willing to pay" a lesser fine of $4,500, the board yesterday said she never agreed to pay any penalty. "Instead, she indicated that, while she might be willing to pay a fine, she was not comfortable admitting to any violations of the law," it said.
The board also said that in pursuing settlement agreements outside of court, it had never asked anyone to sign a statement accepting personal liability, despite Sánchez's contention.
In a meeting with Sánchez, according to the statement, the board staff "explained that the board could not allow people to pay a fine but deny that they violated the law in a settlement agreement as they proposed, because such a practice would not serve the public interest."
Sánchez said she believes her signature as a candidate is not necessary on such an agreement because it would be signed by her campaign treasurer as well.
"If my campaign committee, which I authorized, is doing it, why do they need my signature?" she said in an interview yesterday.
At the root of her refusal to sign is concern that a political rival will file a lawsuit to remove her from office based on a provision in the Philadelphia Code of Ethics. That provision, Section 20-612, states that "any person in violation of this chapter is forever disqualified from holding any elected or appointed city office or employment with the city."
However, Glazer said in an interview he believes that provision would not apply to campaign-finance violations. Also, to the board's knowledge, nobody has tried to use that section to remove anyone from office since it was approved in 1963.
Citing agreements reached in other cases, Glazer said, "If that were a concern, why would all the other people have entered into similar settlements?"
Still, Sánchez requested a private meeting with the five-member Ethics Board to explain her worry about a potential challenge. The board refused.
Explaining that refusal, Glazer yesterday said a meeting of the board would have to be public because it would constitute an administrative proceeding and a private meeting would be a violation of the state Sunshine Act.