Williams Takes Advantage of Campaign Finance Loophole

Or: Why we can't have a nice mayoral field.

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

Mayoral candidate state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.

Why is Philadelphia’s 2015 mayoral field so disappointing?

Here’s one potential answer: Thanks to what some call a “loophole” in campaign finance law, incumbents such as state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, a mayoral candidate, can amass war chests so big they may scare those outside of elected office from getting into the race.

Isaiah Thompson of PhillyVoice.com reports that Williams’ senatorial campaign committee used donations that were far in excess of the city’s campaign contribution limits while he was “exploring” a run for mayor. Which is likely all good and fine, because under Philadelphia law, those limits didn’t kick in until Williams officially announced in November that he was running for city office.

Thompson writes:

One day before Williams’ announcement, according to state campaign finance reports reviewed by PhillyVoice.com, his senatorial campaign paid $30,927 to 270 Strategies, a Chicago-based political consulting firm that has been advising Williams on his mayoral race. In the days leading up to his official announcement, the senatorial campaign made at least six other payments, including more than $11,000 in payments to two consultants — Chavous Consulting, LLC and Meghan Lane — associated with his mayoral campaign.

Some, if not all, of that money, Williams’ campaign acknowledges, came from donations exceeding the city’s limits ($2,900 for individuals, $11,500 for political action committees) that would have clearly violated the city’s campaign finance limits had Williams been an official candidate … just days later.

Now, a potential candidate who is not serving in elected office can also make expenditures in excess of the city’s campaign contribution limits if they’re merely exploring the possibility of running for office. Incumbents are just at advantage because, being elected officials already, they’re usually in a better position to raise money.