Jeff Koch's political campaign took its ethics allegations against city councilor Bruce Kraus right into council chambers today -- a move Kraus dismissed as a "stunt."
Tim Brinton, who is the campaign manager for Koch's effort to replace Kraus in the May primary, presented council with a petition with 25 signatures, requesting a hearing on the city's campaign-finance law. Brinton used the meeting's public-comment period to accuse Kraus of violating the law -- and of "hypocrisy" -- for accepting contributions in larger than what a candidate can recieve in a single election.
Kraus "campaigned as a progressive yet he does not follow the laws that he, himself, wrote," Brinton said. "If our legislators don't follow the law, how do they expect the citizens of this city to follow the law?"
By contrast, Brinton lauded Councilor Ricky Burgess, a mayoral ally who proposed legislation to overturn the limits -- and who is refusing to release his own campaign finance reports, which he says is a gesture of protest. Burgess, said Brinton, is "the only one on this council who stood up to the hypocrisy." (Brinton's admiration comes a little late: He previously issued a statement naming Burgess among incumbent scofflaws ... on account of the fact that Burgess hadn't filed his report.)
Dawn Jones King, the president of the Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council, also took Kraus to task for his campaign contributions -- and for other perceived shortcomings.
During her own public comment, she said she had a good working relationship with the district's past council representative. But since Kraus took office, she said, "I have not received that type of respect" -- and her neighborhood had been losing funding.
Later in the meeting, Kraus called the appearances a "campaign stunt." Brinton's salary, he said, "is being paid for by Luke Ravenstahl and Charlie Zappala." That's a reference to the fact, first reported here last week, that Ravenstahl and Zappala -- who featured prominently in a Post-Gazette series about alleged backroom dealings -- have contributed to Koch's campaign.
Kraus also cast aspersions on Dawn Jones King, who he said wanted city workers to clean a privately-owned lot -- something Kraus charged that Koch did, but that Kraus was not willing to do. (As an aside, King's Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council has been the target of some concern regarding the money it does get. We wrote about its travails last fall.) As if to demonstrate that he was too busy to worry about such paltry accusations, Kraus then moved to a (somewhat unnecessary, it seemed to me) discussion of plans to demolish a building that had recently caught fire.
And then he wished good luck to everyone running for election next week.
At this point, the major question here is: What the hell is happening to this family? We hope to have some thoughts on that by the end of the day.
Well, we all saw this one coming. As first reported here this morning, city councilor Ricky Burgess is characterizing his failure to file a campaign finance report as a gesture of protest. But inevitably, someone was going to ask what he was really hiding.
And now one of his rivals in city council, Lucille Prater-Holliday, is blasting at Burgess in a statement just released:
Today, Ricky Burgess introduced legislation to repeal the City's campaign finance reform legislation, and has said that he will refuse to disclose who is financing his campaign, as the law requires. The question is 'Why?'
Burgess' reactionary legislation is yet another unfortunate example of his abuse of the legislative process to the detriment of those in the district.
This is an insult to every single voter in my district.
I am proud of the broad base of support that my campaign has received. I am proud that the majority of donors to my campaign give small amounts. I am proud to have the support of neighbors in my district who want to see change, who want to see good jobs, safe and affordable housing, and good government.
From the first day that I am sworn into City Council, my office will be run with openness and transparency. I expect to be held to the high standard of integrity that our district deserves.
My neighbors deserve no less than those who live in every other district in the City.
We deserve full disclosure as to who is writing large checks to Burgess' campaign. With the election just one week away, what does he have to hide?
Our friends at Early Returns (congrats on the Quill, fellas!) note that Burgess' strategy is not without risk: At least on paper, state election law has some tough language, forever barring a politician from holding public office if he knowingly violates state election law. The city councilors Burgess has denounced have much less to lose. First, at worst they're only violating a city ordinance -- one Burgess himself says is unenforceable. Second, even if you disagree with their actions, there is at least a case that could be made for why they are not, in fact, actually violating it at all.
Burgess, by contrast, makes no bones about what he's doing. In his statement, he flat-out acknowledges:
Moreover, I have withheld the remainder of my Campaign expense report as an act of protest. Candidates should not be able to pick and choose what laws they obey.
Legal issues aside, consider the paradox of those two sentences. Ricky Burgess is picking and choosing which laws to obey ... to illustrate his argument that candidates should not pick and choose what laws they obey.
Is any of this going to affect the course of these council elections? I doubt it. Some of the same people who are contacting me now -- and complaining about how some city councilors are "violating the spirit" of the campaign finance ordinance -- were people who scoffed at the ordinance back when it was passed. They thought it was too much inside-baseball, the stuff that was of interest only to goody-two-shoes progressives who'd lost touch with what was truly important to city voters. I suspected they were right then (which isn't to say I thought campaign-finance reform was a bad thing). I still think they're right now.