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Electricians' union plugs into campaign-finance loophole

Since 2007, Philadelphia has limited how much money political-action committees can give to candidates for city office. The limit in 2010 was $10,600.

Since 2007, Philadelphia has limited how much money political-action committees can give to candidates for city office. The limit in 2010 was $10,600.

Despite that, City Councilman Bill Green's campaign fund received at least $40,000 last year from the PAC run by the city electricians' union, thanks to a flaw in the city's campaign-finance ordinance.

The union's main PAC, the Committee on Political Education, or COPE, gave $10,000 directly to Green's campaign. The PAC also provided the bulk of the funding that allowed three other, more obscure political-action committees - Building a Better Philadelphia, the Blarney PAC, and Concerned Irish Americans of Philadelphia - to write $10,000 checks for Green's re-election campaign on the same day in early December.

Three of the four PACs are run or were run by individuals with jobs at Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. None of the PACs would have had enough money to make the donations to Green without sizable donations from the union.

When Council was drafting the city's contribution limits in 2005, it recognized the potential for donors to evade the contribution limits by giving money through multiple political-action committees.

With respect to individual donors, the ordinance says the limit shall cover "contributions made to or through one or more political committees . . . ."

But the ordinance did not include the same language for PAC donations made through multiple committees. The electricians' union has taken advantage of the flaw to extend extra financial support not only to Green but also to Daniel McCaffery, an unsuccessful candidate for district attorney two years ago.

The Nutter administration is backing a pending Council bill to close the loophole, by making clear that no political committee can make contributions to a candidate in excess of the specified limit, "including contributions made to or through one or more political committees. . . . "

The measure was set for final Council passage last week, but Green asked that it be held. Green told the Daily News that he wanted to add language developed by the city Board of Ethics defining what is meant by one PAC contributing money through another PAC.

Under union leader John Dougherty, former treasurer of the city's Democratic Party, Local 98 has become the most potent independent fundraiser in Pennsylvania, raising more than $1 million a year in donations and distributing it to an assortment of state and local candidates.

Green declined to discuss the money he has received from the union and disclaimed any knowledge of the union circumventing the city's contribution limits.

"I don't look at who contributes to the PACs that contribute to me," Green said. "We take funds within the law, we make sure we don't violate the law and we have no concerns that anyone who has contributed to us has violated the law."

Asked if he would continue to accept money from Local 98 or related PACs while legislation to close the loophole is pending, Green said: "I am trying to raise as much money as possible in order to ensure my re-election . . . so I pursue funding from any legal source."

The delay in passage of the ordinance could allow the union to step up its donations to other municipal candidates as well. They would not show up in public records until campaign-finance reports are due May 6, and it would likely take additional time to track down reports from any PACs involved in the maneuvering.

Dougherty did not returns calls from the Daily News.

Among the various IBEW-related PACs that gave $10,000 each to Green:

* The Building a Better Philadelphia PAC reported $275,000 in receipts over the past two years, including $190,000 from Local 98's COPE, according to reports filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State. Other contributors to the PAC included the IBEW's Washington, D.C., PAC, $35,000; a PAC run by IBEW Local 351 in Hammonton, N.J., $15,000; the Powell law firm in Scranton, $30,000; and Larry Ceisler, a marketing consultant for Local 98, $5,000.

The PAC's treasurer, Edward J. McBride, was a Local 98 employee involved in marketing until last week, he said. McBride referred questions about the PAC's activities to a Local 98 lawyer, Henry Lewandowski, who did not return calls from the Daily News.

* The Concerned Irish Americans PAC reported $75,000 in contributions over the last two years, $65,000 of it from Local 98's COPE, according to records filed with the city commissioners. The PAC's treasurer, Bob Gormley, is a Local 98 member. He did not return calls for comment.

* The Blarney PAC collected $67,700 over the past two years, $60,000 of it from Local 98's COPE, state election records show. Its treasurer, restaurant owner Michael J. Driscoll, did not return calls for comment.