The Philadelphia Board of Ethics has fined City Councilman David Oh $2,000 for planning and executing an end-run around the city’s campaign contribution limits.
It’s hardly what Oh needed, since he’s one of very few city officials running for re-election this fall facing competitive races. Oh is one of five Republican Council-at-large candidates competing for two slots reserved for minority parties by the city charter.
It’s occasionally happened in the past that a political action committee has exceeded the maximum donation allowed under Philadelphia’s campaign finance law by routing extra cash to candidates through another political committee.
What’s unusual about Oh’s case is that he instigated the plan, and put it in writing.
According to his settlement agreement with the Ethics Board, Oh wrote a text message to a donor in which he cited the city’s limit of $2,900 on individual campaign contributions and instructed the donor to go around it by contributing to a political committee that would in turn give the money to Oh’s campaign (see the text below).
Oh didn’t return my calls, but he told the Inquirer’s Tricia Nadolny that he was confused about the law, and thought what he was doing was legal. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” he said.
It goes without saying that an incumbent elected official and someone who’s run for office as many times as Oh should make sure he understands state and city election law. And I know that the Ethics Board regularly offers training for candidates.
I asked Ethics Board Executive Director Shane Creamer to remind me how often.
“We have training sessions before each and every election,” Creamer said. “We try to set up several of them before the primary, several before the general. And people can always come to us with questions and ask for advice as well.” Those are words aspiring city candidates should note.
And now, before we leave, that text message Oh wrote to his potential donor, who shared it with investigators from the Ethics Board…
Great talking to you. Thanks for your help and support!
For Philadelphia Council races, an individual is limited to $2,900 per year. A joint account of two adults is limited to $5,800. Corporate checks are prohibited so it must be a personal or partnership check.
Your personal check should be made payable to “Citizens for David Oh.” I can send someone to pick it up at your office or you can mail it to David Oh, 5813 Thomas Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143.
If you and your wife can contribute $5,000 this year and again in January 2015, that would be a big help at $10,000. In addition, if your parents-in-law are able to contribute $5,000 in 2014, as a couple, that would be a total of $15,000.
Finally, please write a check to “Committee to Elect Dave Henderson” in the amount of $5,000. Mail it to me or bring it to your office and I’ll have someone pick it up. The total would be $20,000.
If your parents-in-law are not able to contribute $5,000, then please write the check to “Committee to Elect Dave Henderson” in the amount of $10,000.
Thanks very much!