Apr 11, 2023 - News

Philadelphia candidate Brown accused of skirting campaign finance laws

Illustration of M.C. Escher hand drawing another hand holding a stack of money

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An independent super PAC and nonprofit backing Democratic mayoral candidate Jeff Brown must temporarily halt political spending over accusations they illegally coordinated with his campaign.

Why it matters: Outside groups such as super PACs are spending millions of dollars on the Democratic primary, which could significantly influence the election’s outcome due to the crowded candidate field.

  • These groups can keep their donors anonymous and funnel unlimited money into the election with limited transparency.

Driving the news: A Court of Common Pleas judge issued the order yesterday after the Philadelphia Board of Ethics sued For A Better Philadelphia PAC and a nonprofit with the same name who donated heavily to the group.

  • The board of ethics’ court petition says it found evidence that Brown’s campaign and the groups were engaged in an “extensive and deliberate scheme to circumvent the City’s campaign contribution limits.”
  • The judge set a near hearing for later in the month.

Between the lines: Outside groups, like super PACS, can raise and spend unlimited money on elections but must act independently from campaigns.

Details: Brown is accused of soliciting funds for and directing funds to the super PAC and nonprofit within a year of the May 16 primary.

  • The result: The board of ethics thinks the outside groups’ spending should be considered in-kind contributions and subject to the city’s contribution limits, per court documents.
  • Of note: The annual contribution limits for the mayoral election are $6,200 for individuals and $25,200 for political committees and groups.

By the numbers: For a Better Philadelphia super PAC has spent approximately $3 million in the election through nearly the end of March, Shane Creamer Jr., executive director of the city’s board of ethics, tells Axios.

  • The nonprofit, For a Better Philadelphia 501(c)(4), donated at least $2.4 million to the super PAC late last year.

Zoom out: While Brown’s campaign has spent nearly $2.8 million through March 27, he has benefited from $3.1 million in support from super PACs, the most out of any candidate, per the Inquirer.

What they’re saying: “You can't get away with circumventing the contribution limits by setting up a dark money group that funds a super PAC and spends money illegally to support your candidacy,” Creamer said.

The other side: “We have complied with the law and neither we, nor the voters, will be distracted by this nonsense,” Brown spokesperson Kyle Anderson tells Axios.

Pat Christmas, chief policy officer for the nonprofit government watchdog group the Committee of Seventy, tells Axios: “This could be one of the most significant enforcement actions the board of ethics has taken up.”

  • Yes, but: He questioned what effect halting the spending by these groups will have.
  • “A lot of the damage has been done,” he said.

What’s next: A hearing is scheduled for April 24 in the Court of Common Pleas.


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