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Ethics Board and Williams settle on excess contributions

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams accepted six campaign donations that exceeded the city's tough limits and wrongly made $62,927 from his Senate campaign account available for his Philadelphia mayoral run, the city Board of Ethics says.

Anthony Williams speaks at the Bright Hope Baptist Church mayoral forum in Philadelphia on Monday, April 7, 2015. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer )
Anthony Williams speaks at the Bright Hope Baptist Church mayoral forum in Philadelphia on Monday, April 7, 2015. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer )Read more

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams accepted six campaign donations that exceeded the city's tough limits and wrongly made $62,927 from his Senate campaign account available for his Philadelphia mayoral run, the city Board of Ethics says.

The board said Williams' actions violated city campaign law. They were described in a settlement announced Wednesday between the board and Williams, who agreed to pay an $8,000 penalty.

The West Philadelphia Democrat also agreed to freeze the $62,927 in question and reimburse the city for $10,000 it paid an accountant to investigate the matter.

Those amounts - along with $17,250 in excess campaign contributions that Williams agreed to pay back to the city - are only a fraction of his mayoral campaign fund, which topped $425,000 as of Dec. 31 and does not include the millions that his independent supporters have vowed to spend on his race.

Still, the settlement makes him the first candidate in the six-person Democratic mayoral primary field to be cited for violating the caps.

Williams' lawyer, Mark Aronchick, a former city solicitor and Ethics Board chairman, called the excess contributions an honest mistake, likely due to different state and city campaign finance rules.

"As far as campaigns go, this is minuscule. . . . It was an honest, harmless mistake," he said.

State law does not limit how much an individual or political action committee can give to a state campaign fund, such as Williams'.

But because the Williams for Senate fund became the Williams for Mayor fund on Nov. 19, anyone who donated thereafter had to abide by the city's strict limits: PACs cannot give more than $11,500 in a calendar year to a candidate. Individuals are limited to $2,900.

Local lawyer George Bochetto, for example, gave $5,000 to Williams for Senate on March 19, 2014. But once Williams declared for mayor, Bochetto had reached his limit, per city rules, and could not donate to Williams for Mayor in 2014.

Yet Bochetto donated $2,900 to Williams for Mayor on Dec. 18.

Bochetto said the Williams camp had told him it was OK to donate the additional $2,900 since that amount was within the city's caps.

The fine is the second arising from Williams' mayoral run. Last month the Carpenters Union's PAC, in a separate settlement, agreed to pay a fine for contributing $21,500 last year - $10,000 above the city's cap on donations by PACs.

Michael Cooke, enforcement director at the Ethics Board, would not say whether the five people, including Bochetto, whose donations exceeded the caps might face penalties. The Inquirer described their donations last month.

The accountant hired by the board also found that Williams' campaign finance reports contained "misstatements and omissions" that the campaign agreed to correct. The settlement gave no details.

The $62,927 was the total that the board determined Williams made available to his mayoral run from his Senate campaign fund.

According to city rules, any money raised before a candidate declares a run for city office must be moved to a separate account when that candidates declares.

In November, Williams campaign aides met with the Ethics Board and said "they believed they had spent all of the excess pre-candidacy contributions they had accepted," the settlement agreement said.

The accountant saw it differently, advising that Williams' Senate campaign fund "had spent most but not all of the excess pre-candidacy contributions it had accepted."

The sides agreed that the $62,927 cannot be used for Williams' mayoral bid. On that score, at least, "we agreed . . . that we wouldn't call it a violation" or impose an added fine, said J. Shane Creamer Jr., the board's executive director.

Aronchick said the issue was in part "a dispute about accounting principles," with no evidence of wrongdoing.

cvargas@phillynews.com 215-854-5520 @InqCVargas

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