On May 1st each year, the city’s elected officials are required to tell the world how they make their money, and what kind of gifts they’re getting. These financial disclosure statements, thanks to the City of Philadelphia’s Mesozoic technological prowess and resistance to transparency, are available only in person, in a cramped and cluttered office on the ground floor of City Hall. I went to the cramped office so you didn’t have to. Here, some of the most interesting findings from the 2012 disclosures:
Councilman Bill Green received two Coldplay tickets worth $240 from Jack Wodjak. (Green reported 28 gifts, 22 more than the next-highest recipient.)
Councilwoman Cindy Bass received $269 worth of Harlem Globetrotters tickets and refreshments from Temple University.
Councilwoman Marian Tasco has a financial stake in the bankrupt AC casino Revel (exactly what business she has with them I don’t know, as her office didn’t get back to me).
Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. received 535 circus tickets worth $8,035, courtesy of UniverSoul. A fan of clowns, he told me he gave no more than 534 of them to neighborhood kids.
Mayor Michael Nutter received one pen from the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard worth $2,950 and another from the U.S. Conference of Mayors worth $1,800. Nutter’s spokesman says they are stored away in some hard-to-find place and that the Mayor will stick to his own trusty quill, thank you. His other gift was a pair of tickets to the annual PA Society Dinner, worth $778, courtesy of your friendly energy utility PECO.
PECO, for the record, was by far the largest gift-giver last year, disbursing $17,199 to city officials in 2012. Number two, at least among registered lobbyists, clocked in at just under $2,000.
So, is there anything improper about any of these gifts? Maybe, maybe not.
In 2011, the Mayor signed an executive order forbidding members of the city’s executive branch from receiving any gifts from entities that could be affected by any aspect of city government. There are a few loopholes, however. One of them allows exceptions for certain “gifts to the city,” deemed appropriate, like a ceremonial pen, or tickets to a high-profile event during which the Mayor’s presence would be expected. (In this case, the Mayor himself decided that the PA Society tickets were acceptable.)
The Committee of 70’s Zack Stalberg says he’s not overly bothered by the tickets, though he says that if he were in Nutter’s position, he would have bought the tickets with funds from his campaign treasury, “so that no concerns could be raised.”
City Council, for its part, is not covered by the executive order, and can essentially collect as many gifts as it wants. Which is why it’s strange that several members of council flat-out omitted gifts they received, something that becomes apparent when comparing their own disclosure statements with the city’s lobbying records, which also list gifts. For example:
Councilman Bill Greenlee reported $0 in gifts, but actually received $511 from PECO, mostly attributable to Flower Show tickets.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez reported $400 in gifts from PECO, but actually received $800 from PECO in Phillies tickets, Flower Show tickets, and other items.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown reported $486 in Sixers tickets from PECO that PECO didn’t declare, but didn’t report $6,223 in other PECO gifts, given either directly to her, or to another group, through her signature “Celebration of Moxie Women Program.”
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell reported $0 in gifts, but received $675 in tickets from PECO for the Flower Show and the Mann Music Center.
Curtis Jones, Jr. did not report $2,020 in gifts from PECO, $2,000 of which was for the Councilman’s annual “Block Captain Bootcamp Festival.”
(Jones, Jr. chalks the discrepancy up to a filing matter, Quinones-Sanchez says she was too hasty in trying to make deadline, and Reynolds-Brown’s staff says they’re looking into it. Blackwell and Greenlee didn’t get back to me.)
The only way any of this begins to look improper, according to the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, which governs Council’s gifts policy, is if substantial gifts that appear politically motivated are changing hands. While determining such ethics violations is an ad hoc process—there isn’t a specific dollar amount that triggers a violation—BOE Executive Director Shane Creamer told me that council people probably shouldn’t be getting more than $500 per year in gifts from any one entity (see: McDaniel, John, and Reynolds-Brown, Blondell).
If that’s the case, the above five members, along with other substantial PECO giftees Cindy Bass and Kenyatta Johnson, would seem to merit some degree of scrutiny, per the BOE’s own standards.
Finally, since it’s election day, here’s what incumbent Controller candidate Alan Butkovitz received last year: two tickets for a Barnes Foundation event worth $200 and two tickets to Pennoni’s Ellipse Awards Gala, worth $350.