Philadelphia 3.0, both a PAC and nonprofit, shows some nimble moves
The Philadelphia city commissioners, three officials who run our elections, have long been an easy target for reform-minded activists. A dozen groups last week called on City Council and Mayor Kenney to replace those posts, which are elected, with an appointed elections director.
The Philadelphia city commissioners, three officials who run our elections, have long been an easy target for reform-minded activists.
A dozen groups last week called on City Council and Mayor Kenney to replace those posts, which are elected, with an appointed elections director.
Two groups led that charge: the Committee of Seventy, founded 112 years ago to fight public corruption, and Philadelphia 3.0, launched 19 months ago to influence City Council elections.
Ali Perelman, executive director for Philadelphia 3.0, accused the commissioners of showing a "lack of accountability" for their "political maneuvering."
Some might call that moxie. Others could see it as brazen hypocrisy.
Here's why: Philadelphia 3.0 raised and spent more than $500,000 for the 2015 election. The group kept secret the sources for seven out of every 10 of those dollars.
Philadelphia 3.0 uses a "dark money" sleight of hand to hide its finances. The group is both a political action committee, or PAC, which has to report where donations come from, and a nonprofit, which does not have to identify its donors.
In 2015, the nonprofit part gave the PAC part $375,000 in two donations. The PAC then acted as an "independent expenditure" group, endorsing some Council candidates and attacking others.
That's all legal, due to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing groups to work around the city's campaign contribution limits if they don't coordinate with candidates.
But is this really the face of reform in Philly?
Getting rid of the city commissioners will require legislation passed through City Council and signed into law by Kenney to put on the ballot a question asking voters whether they approve of that move.
Perelman said her group, which registered as a lobbyist just last week, will use only PAC money for this effort.
Philadelphia 3.0 will also be raising money as a nonprofit and spending it on independent expenditures until at least the 2023 municipal election, she said.
Here's how secretive the nonprofit side of the group is. When asked whether she could explain in a global sense the motivations of people who give money that way, Perelman simply said, "I'm sorry, no."
Here is what we know about the group's start: Joseph and Robert Zuritsky, the father and son who run Parkway Corp., started pitching to corporate executives in late 2014 a new group to recruit and elect business-friendly Council candidates.
A Zuritsky spokesman in early 2015 said more than 120 people had been briefed on the independent expenditure plan.
Philadelphia 3.0's website now opens with this question: "How does a city that paved the way for political change fall so far behind?"
David Thornburgh, president at the Committee of Seventy, said he doesn't know who funds Philadelphia 3.0 but is confident the group is following the law on those donations.
"If I could wave a magic wand and change the law I would call for immediate disclosure and total transparency," Thornburgh said. "But that's not the law that we have."
Thornburgh credits Philadelphia 3.0 for taking a stand when there are "too few folks" willing to engage on civic matters. His group was founded in 1904, a time when several reform groups were fighting local corruption.
"It was sort of a supercharged era of civic activism," Thornburgh said. "Let's just say it's been a little lonely for the last couple of decades."