47 Criminals running for city office

    Okay, I’m exaggerating a little with that headline.

    But according to the city Ethics Board, 89 candidates have filed petitions to run for City Council and other Philadelphia offices, and only 42 have met their legal obligation to notify the Ethics Board of their campaigns and provide required information.

    The Board needs that information so they can easily monitor the campaigns and make sure they’re living up to the city’s campaign finance law and other requirements.

    Those seeking to convince voters they’re qualified to run city government might begin by understanding and adhering to the rules for running for office.

    One way a candidate can run afoul of the rules is to mishandle legal work that may be done on their behalf to fight a petition challenge. For those who don’t follow Philly politics as a sport, it’s a frequently-employed campaign tactic to challenge the nominating petitions of a competitor.

    You go carefully over the names on the competitor’s petitions, and look for sheets that aren’t signed, folks who aren’t registered, information that’s missing, or other technical flaws.

    And three candidates face challenges of a different kind this year. There are suits seeking to strike Council members Frank Rizzo and Marian Tasco, and City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione from the ballot because of their participation in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP.

    Any candidate who uses lawyers to fend off such challenges should think carefully about how the attorneys are compensated. Elected officials may have friends in the legal community who would be willing to do their work for free, but if they provide more than $10,000 worth of legal work gratis, that would be an illegal in-kind campaign contribution under the law.

    U.S. Rep Bob Brady got into a jam with when he was a mayoral candidate in 2007 and the Cozen O’Connor law firm ran up a $448,000 legal bill defending a petition challenge.

    Candidates need to pay for legal work with money raised within the campaign finance limits. The law has been amended since 2007 to permit candidates to establish a special litigation fund just for that purpose.

    I called Councilman Rizzo to ask if he’d thought of this.

    “Oh, sure,” he said. “My campaign fund can afford to pay those bills.”

    How much does he figure it will cost?

    “I have no idea,” he said, “but my lawyers are two of the best – Dennis Cogan and Chris Warren.”

    Cogan is one of the city’s best-known criminal defense attorneys. His most recent high-profile client was State Sen. Vincent Fumo, who was convicted on 137 corruption counts.

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