Phillys Ethics Board Is Investigating Campaign Finance Activities Related To Mayoral Candidate Jeff Brown

Phillys Ethics Board Is Investigating Campaign Finance Activities Related To Mayoral Candidate Jeff Brown

Mayoral candidate Jeff Brown addresses the crowd at the annual Mayor's Dinner in Philadelphia in February. © Tiger Williams/Philadelphia Enquirer/TNS Mayoral nominee Jeff Brown addresses the crowd at Philadelphia's annual mayors dinner in February.

The Philadelphia Ethics Board is investigating campaign finance activities linked to mayoral candidate Jeff Brown, according to a person the board spoke to.

Victoria Perrone, a Philadelphia-based campaign finance consultant, said she was interviewed this week by Senate Executive Director Shane Creamer about Team Brown's initial efforts to orchestrate a joint race strategy.

According to Perrone, they are looking into some of Jeff Brown's financial dealings.

Perrone said he did not work for Brown's campaign or his cheerleading squad, but a year ago he argued with Jimmy Cowley, who is now Brown's campaign manager, about joining the group.

Shoprite owner Brown is the only mayoral candidate running in the May 16 Democratic primary who has never held elected office. But earlier this year, a high-profile and expensive advertising campaign burst into a crowded field when everyone but the competition could afford airtime.

Grocer Jeff Brown is the only mayoral candidate who has so far benefited from Super PAC-funded television ads. © Tom Grealish/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Grocer Jeff Brown is the only mayoral candidate to have benefited so far from Super PAC-funded television ads.

Brown's campaign and his supporting independent group "super PAC" spent more than $2 million to promote his candidacy to the small screen. It was then that advertising buying changed the shape of the race and led to name recognition, which was of great benefit as voters knew who was who.

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It is not yet clear if the board is investigating Brown's campaign, independent groups that support him or are associated with him, or both. Kramer said last week that he could neither confirm nor deny the investigation, as required by House rules. Investigations remain confidential until they are resolved, and, as with criminal investigations, the Ethics Committee investigates subjects who are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

PAC Super Advisor Dan Siegel declined to comment.

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The Ethics Committee is appointed by the mayor and enforces Philadelphia's public integrity laws, including campaign finance, lobbying, and the political activities of city employees. Professional staff led by Cramer investigate violations of these rules, usually caused by complaints.

Most of their investigations end in plea bargains in which the guilty candidates or political committees plead guilty and agree to pay fines. If the ethics committee discovers a criminal offense, it may refer it to law enforcement.

It's unclear if the investigation will be completed before the May 16 reopening, and Perrone said she's unsure of the extent of the investigation.

Last year, he refused to join a pro-Brown group because he worked for two other politicians who at the time appeared to be joining the race. But she said she was interested in Cowley's questions because they asked about her experience with various campaign finance organizations, some of which are legally prohibited from cooperating with each other.

"Basically, I'm not sure it's entirely appropriate," Perron said. "During the conversation, I said that I can't do all these things at once because [that would be a problem]."

On Saturday, the Inquirer asked Coley and Brown about the investigation. Cowley replied that the ethics committee had told him that he could neither confirm nor deny the investigation. Council rules prohibit people contacted by investigators from publicly disclosing information they have learned in the course of an investigation.

Brown is the only mayoral candidate to benefit from television advertising funded by "super PAC", an external spending group that can collect unlimited donations. Some superteams avoid identifying donors by raising money for political charities they don't need to reveal to their supporters.

Candidates, in turn, must disclose their donors and are subject to Philadelphia's caps on contributions, which in this year's race for mayor are $6,200 from individual donors and $25,200 from political committees.

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Super PACs are prohibited from partnering with campaigns because they are not subject to candidate funding laws, meaning they cannot work together on strategies such as creating ads and when to run them.

Super PAC He held early mayoral elections in 2015 and 2019. This is changing this year.

Brown's Super PAC supporter, For a Better Philadelphia, has already bought more than $1 million worth of TV ads. Per year, the Company reported raising more than $3 million in 2022, more than 80 percent of which came from the state-owned nonprofit of the same name last April.

Super PAC made headlines for using images of former Gov. Tom Wolf and former First Lady Michelle Obama to promote Brown without their consent, although neither supported him. The Obama team said the images were "fabricated".

This ad, as well as a $1.2 million campaign-sponsored ad, helped boost Brown's reputation as a first-time nominee.

Real estate mogul Alan Doombs, a former city councilman who donated $5 million to his campaign, is the only candidate to ever spend the most money on television. Former Council Majority Leader Cheryl Parker became the third female television mayoral candidate last week with a $57,000 purchase.

The next two mayoral candidates that Perrone worked on while negotiating with Cawley were then City Comptroller Rebecca Rinehart and Dom, who was still on the council. Both have resigned to run for mayor, but now Perrone is not running for either.

Instead, he recommends two free campaigns in separate elections. Perron said one was organized by the Asia-Pacific Islanders Political Alliance, which supports former councilor Helen Jim in the race for mayor. He declined to name a second client, which is still in the planning stages.

Before Brown entered the mayoral race, in 2021 he started a quirky state-but-not-city-registered group called the Philly Progress PAC and spent $1.2 million in two years, then ended his business about a month later. existence. Launch campaign in November 2021.

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The group caught the attention of Philadelphia political circles when it first appeared in campaign finance reports in early 2022, and Brown's team remained silent at the time, saying it was not a blocked campaign. For Brown.

Because it was a state-registered PAC and not affiliated with the Philadelphia election, the group was not subject to the city's limits on contributions. He cashed checks for large sums, but did not know how to spend money on the presidential race.

City ethics rules prohibit campaigns from making donations to "candidates" that exceed the city's limits on contributions to activities that affect the outcome of an election. This money can be used for "research" purposes such as paying for surveys to determine if someone is a suitable candidate.

Earlier this year, Cowley said the GAC's primary goal is to educate Brown on political issues.

It was mostly just Jeff's education. "I want to make sure it's relevant," Cawley said in February. "I would call it a research institution, not a political tool."

The group paid some political consultants, but most of last year's spending — from nearly $446,000 to $717,000 — went to seven people who are now on Brown's campaign team.

Coley alone received about $434,000 from the Philly Progress PAC, while Jeff Brown's son Scott received $75,000 in the meantime.

Staff writers Chris Brennan and Jonathan Tamari contributed to this report.

© 2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit www.inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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