Can Jim Kenney Really Inherit Ken Trujillo’s Campaign Operation?

Regulators sure would be intrigued if they tried.

Photo Credit: Trujillo from the Trujillo campaign, Kenney from City Council's Flickr page.

Ken Trujillo, left, Jim Kenney, right. Photo Credit: Trujillo from the Trujillo campaign, Kenney from City Council’s Flickr page.

There’s been some speculation in recent days that Jim Kenney could more or less just take over the well-funded, professionalized campaign operation that Ken Trujillo had put together before suddenly dropping out of the race last week.

And wow, that would be a hell of a boon for any candidate entering the mayoral race at this late date. Staff. Office space. Polling data. Donor lists. Opposition research. Putting all that together takes time and money, and a new candidate will be short on both.

Too bad for Kenney that city law pretty clearly makes that impossible.

Candidate committees like Trujillo’s can contribute a maximum of $11,500 per year to candidates for city office. That cap extends to “in-kind” contributions; non-cash donations with clear value.

And all that campaign infrastructure has value. A lot of value.

“If Ken handed over an email list, what’s the fair market value of that list? You’d had to determine some market value, and that counts against the cap,” said political fundraiser Aubrey Montgomery, who’s not working for any of the mayoral campaigns.

Knowing Philadelphia’s Board of Ethics and its staff, you have to assume they would take a very keen interest indeed in any attempt Trujillo or Kenney might make to swap campaign apparatuses.

So look, it’s just not going to happen.

For one, Trujillo isn’t yet endorsing Kenney (who, let’s remember, is not actually a candidate yet). And it’s not clear that he will, as the Daily News has reported.

“I haven’t spoken with Jim Kenney. I haven’t made any decisions about whom if anyone I will support,” Trujillo told me.

And Trujillo, a lawyer and former city solicitor, seems acutely aware that transferring a campaign operation from one candidate to another won’t fly under city ethics laws.

“We have fully complied and will fully comply with all campaign finance and ethics rules,” he said. “I see no stickiness whatsoever; (The rules) are pretty coherent.”

It certainly is likely that some of Trujillo’s campaign workers will end up in Kenney’s camp. Lauren Hitt, the Trujillo campaign spokesperson, is now taking press calls for Kenney. Jane Slusser, Trujillo’s campaign manager, might play a role in a Kenney campaign. And veteran communications pro Ken Snyder, who was doing media for Trujillo, is at the center of the draft Kenney movement.

So Kenney does stand to benefit from having a pool of campaign operatives on hand and looking for work. But none of them are on the Kenney payroll now, Hitt said, including herself.

“Jim Kenney is going through an expedited process (in deciding whether or not to run) and he’s talked to any number of people about what a potential mayoral campaign might look like, but at this point nobody is on salary,” Hitt said.

She also said “everyone is aware of all the campaign finance rules and ethics regulations and they willl adhere to them.”

As for Trujilllo polling, donor lists and the like, Hitt said that information was owned by the Trujillo campaign, not to the Trujillo staffers who helped to develop it. “It’s Ken’s discretion to do what he wants with that intellectual property, and everyone on both sides of the equation is aware of the rules.”

The Trujillo campaign does have office space in Center City, but Hitt said there were no plans she was aware of to make that space Kenney’s, if indeed he does decide to run for mayor.

A separate but related question is whether Trujillo can or would be inclined to use the money he raised from donors in an “independent expenditure” effort to support Kenney or another candidate.

That too would be legally problematic. The Board of Ethics would no doubt ask hard questions about how independent an expenditure could be if it came from a campaign committee staffed by the same folks now running Kenney’s campaign. Plus, the cash from Trujillo’s campaign is a candidate committee, not an independent expenditure committee. Transferring the funds between the two might not be impossible, but it would be a challenge. And there are likely Trujillo donors who wouldn’t support Kenney or indeed any candidate Trujillo might want to back. Would they ask for their cash back?

Which is not to say that Trujillo has ruled out an independent expenditure effort.

“Everything is on the table including supporting another candidate directly, or forming an independent expenditure committee,” Trujillo said.

The key phrase there is “forming an independent expenditure committee.” That sounds like Trujillo would create an entirely new committee, and solicit new donors, if he opts to start up an independent expenditure effort.