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Will Seth Williams' PAC be compelled to release financial records?

Differing opinions can sometimes collide at the intersection of politics and criminal justice. But I think we can all agree on this: A district attorney should obey the law.

District Attorney Seth Williams
District Attorney Seth WilliamsRead moreCLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Differing opinions can sometimes collide at the intersection of politics and criminal justice. But I think we can all agree on this: A district attorney should obey the law.

District Attorney Seth Williams' political action committee is not following the Pennsylvania Election Code - a state law - according to a referral made Friday by the Philadelphia Board of Elections.

That referral asks that Williams be compelled to comply with a request from The Inquirer, made more than six weeks ago, to review the financial records of his PAC, Friends of Seth Williams.

The referral was sent to Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office.

I've said it before and you'll hear it again: You can't make this stuff up.

We'll come back to Kane - we always do, it seems - but first, let's review how this happened.

The Inquirer reported in August that Williams' PAC is being probed by a federal grand jury. Sources familiar with that investigation said it focuses on whether Williams misspent campaign funds on personal expenses.

Those sources said Friends of Seth Williams had already complied with subpoenas from the FBI and IRS for records.

So we know the PAC has the records and is capable of handing them over.

The Inquirer is seeking the PAC's records from 2012, 2013, and 2014.

The Election Code requires campaigns to keep records for all expenditures over $25. Those records must be made available to the public for review if requested.

The code also says a PAC can open the books itself or give copies of the records to the Board of Elections to share with the public. If they don't, the board then issues a demand for the records.

Here, the Board of Elections first directed the Friends of Seth Williams to contact The Inquirer within 10 business days, and then sent a request for the records when the PAC took no action.

Tim Dowling, the city's acting supervisor of elections, said Lisette Gonzalez, the PAC's executive director, told him Thursday that lawyers representing Williams have the requests for records.

If a PAC refuses to produce records, the Board of Elections must "report apparent violations . . . to the appropriate authorities," the code says.

Dowling did that in a letter mailed and emailed Friday to Kane's office.

Here is where this mess turns even messier.

Williams lobbed insults Kane's way in 2012 - calling her campaign tactics "stupid" and more in the Democratic primary election for attorney general after she criticized the legal experience of a candidate he had endorsed.

That animosity intensified last year when The Inquirer reported that Kane had dropped political corruption cases that had been run by state prosecutors who left her office to work for Williams. He took umbrage at her claim that the cases had unfairly targeted only African American elected officials.

He also picked up the corruption case and landed four guilty pleas.

Kane was charged in Montgomery County in August with leaking secret grand jury material to the Philadelphia Daily News for a 2014 story in what was described as an attempt to embarrass a former state prosecutor who now works for Williams.

Full disclosure: I wrote that story when I worked for the Daily News.

The criminal charges said Kane had asked a political operative to gather dirt on Williams in an attempt to "make Seth pay."

Before and after those charges, her office has been spewing forth an electronic history of pornographic, racist, and sexist emails sent and received by state prosecutors on state computers, a sordid by-product of a probe she commissioned of their previous legal work.

Three former state prosecutors now working for Williams, including the one who accused Kane of trying to embarrass him, were ordered by Williams to take "sensitivity training" in September because of their email history.

Williams refused to comment in August when The Inquirer reported on the federal probe. Mike Barley, a spokesman for his PAC, later blamed Kane for The Inquirer story.

Williams, his lawyer, and Barley did not respond Friday to requests for comment.

Barley in August said Williams' "campaign finance records are a matter of public record and he will cooperate with any authorities who may wish to review them."

If Williams knows that his PAC's finances are public records, why won't he let the public see them?

That's a question for Kane to answer now.

"We take all referrals seriously," Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo said last week. "We'll review this one and respond if what we believe is an appropriate manner."