Koch hitting hard on campaign ethics charges (and he's not alone) -- and district 9 news | Blogh

Monday, May 9, 2011

Koch hitting hard on campaign ethics charges (and he's not alone) -- and district 9 news

Posted By on Mon, May 9, 2011 at 1:55 PM

Well, you heard it here first:  Late last week I said District 3 city councilor Bruce Kraus could expect more headaches as a result of his most recent campaign-finance document. And rival Jeff Koch is now applying the pain. Here's a statement Koch just sent out a short time ago: 

As expected, Bruce Kraus has once again violated his own campaign finance reform. Bruce’s 2011 filings have added nine new violations including one from a local beer distributor.

"This whole thing reeks of hypocrisy," said Jeff. "“Bruce is campaigning on this finance reform, and now has a minimum of 16 violations to that law. Not only is he lying to voters, he is taking money from the very people he has appeared to fight during his time in office. It infuriates me that while Bruce preaches crime prevention through District 3, he is breaking the law with no penalty."

Mr. Kraus accepted $12,100 in illegal campaign contributions since January 1, 2010:

  • Total Violations – 16
  • PAC Violations - $3,600 (5)
  • Individual - $8,500 (11)
  • Total - $12,100

One particular donation in the amount of $2,000 came from a local beer distributor. Mr. Kraus has long fought bar owners and beer drinkers on Carson St, but is now accepting illegal campaign contributions from those who fuel that culture.

Mr. Kraus is in questionable company when it comes to finance disclosures this election. Two other current councilors took illegal violations. Additionally, fellow incumbent, Rev. Ricky Burgess, appears to have failed to file his report before Friday’s deadline.

As for those other two councilors -- as was also noted here last week, one of them is Patrick Dowd, and the other is Darlene Harris.

Like Kraus, Dowd and Harris have both taken contributions that, on their face, would seem to exceed the contribution limits of $1,000 from individuals, $2,000 from PACs.

Whether you consider those "illegal violations," though, is a matter of debate. As I've said from the outset, there's a plausible case to be made that the law allows maximum contributions "per covered election" -- i.e. once for the May primary, and again for the November general. 

ADDED: And like clockwork, Harris' opponent, Vince Pallus, has come out with his own statement. Can Tony Ceoffe's denunciation of Dowd be far behind?

Here's the Pallus statement:

PITTSBURGH, May 9, 2011 – "Mrs. Harris is in violation of the campaign finance reform that she, as Pittsburgh’s Council president and candidate for the 2011 Primary election, is obliged to follow," said Vince Pallus, Democratic candidate for City Council District One.

Pallus filed an ethics complaint with the Allegheny County Board of Elections Thursday May 5th, pointing out the two campaign contributions Mrs. Harris received from the political action committee Western PA Laborers PAC on Sept. 16th, 2010 for $2,500 and again on December 31st, 2010 for $1,500 for a total of $4,000.

"It's outrageous that a career politician and council president, who is claiming to have 30 years of political experience, could make such egregious errors," Pallus said.

Under the current law passed by Pittsburgh City Council, PAC contribution limits are set at $2,000 maximum per election, per PAC. Mrs. Harris carried over these and other funds to the current 2011 primary campaign.

"That's only the beginning of the list of illegal contributions Mrs. Harris collected from donors. We've now seen her campaign committee accept five more contributions that exceed the limits that I and many other candidates have vigorously followed," added Pallus.

The new violations include the following campaign contributions, which exceed maximum contribution limits:

• $4,000 from the Local 66 PAC Club

• $3,000 combined from the Plumbers Local Union PAC

• $4,000 from the IBEW Local Union 5 PAC

• $4,000 from the Moderate Americans

• $1,500 from Frederic Sargent

These violations of the campaign finance regulations have penalty provisions that may result in fines and other sanctions to Mrs. Harris and her campaign treasurer. These actions show Mrs. Harris' callous attitude toward the law, the voters in her district, her campaign and financial supporters.

The exact laws which the candidate refuses to abide by are:

198.02 (1) – No person shall make political contributions to a candidate per covered election that exceeds the following limitation: Candidates for City Elected Office: One thousand dollars ($1,000.00)

198.02 (2) – No political committee shall make political contributions to a candidate per covered election that exceed the following limitations: Candidates for City Elected Office: Two thousand dollars ($2,000.00)

The penalty for such violations as stated in the ordinance:

198.06 (d) – In addition to the penalties as presently provided by law, any person found by the Board in violation of this Chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty of two thousand dollars ($2,000.00) for each violation committed. Additionally, if a violation is determined by the Board, any person in violation of this Chapter may be subject to further penalties as determined by the Board.

In accordance with this ordinance, Councilwoman Darlene Harris and her treasurer potentially face thousands of dollars in penalties for multiple violations.

"When I entered this race with the hopes to represent my council district, I knew that there had been plenty of poor decisions made by the incumbent that led to wasteful use of Pittsburgh tax dollars, and I had not envisioned illegal tactics being used by Mrs. Harris to assure herself re-election," Pallus concluded.

In his original ethics case filing, Vince Pallus requested that a Board of Elections be convened to investigate these violations in full. A new filing will be made to cover the additional violations discovered on the current 2011 campaign finance report

Over in city council district 9, meanwhile, Phyllis Copeland-Mitchell's camp has released a statement touting the outcome of an unemployment hearing involving her abrupt departure from her job at the Program for Offenders. There's been speculation that the firing might have been politically motivated. Copeland-Mitchell's release notes that she was fired after winnng the Democratic Party endorsement over incumbent councilor Ricky Burgess. "Who wants Copeland-Mitchell out of the race?" it asks. 

The fact-finder's report doesn't answer that question. But it concludes that Copeland-Mitchell was terminated against her will, and deserves unemployment compensation. Employers can only refuse to pay unemployment if an employee engages in wilful misconduct -- and the Program for Offenders produced no evidence of that. All it had, the finding declares, was an "assumption" that Copeland-Mitchell would be campaigning instead of working. 

So whatever the results of  next week's primary, Copeland-Mitchell has won a battle for workplace justice.


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