DNC host committee finance records will stay under wraps for now, judge rules

    Members of Reclaim Philadelphia march through Center City to demand that the DNC reveal its sources of funding. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Members of Reclaim Philadelphia march through Center City to demand that the DNC reveal its sources of funding. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    The Philadelphia host committee for the Democratic National Convention can keep its fundraising records private — for now.

    A Common Pleas judge ruled against independent journalist Dustin Slaughter who sought the documents under the state’s Right to Know Law. 

    “It’s a huge loss for the public and to the very notions of transparency and accountability,” said Slaughter in a statement. “Because my amazing attorney and I lack the resources to continue this fight — unlike [chairman of the convention’s Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee Ed] Rendell’s law firm — we will not be appealing the opinion.”

    Slaughter wanted to see the quarterly financial reports the DNC host committee is required to file with the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development known as PAID. The reports are required as part of an agreement in which PAID guaranteed a $15 million line of credit to help cover the costs of the event. 

    However, Judge Abbe Fletman ruled state open records laws are pre-empted by federal law, which says the committee must reveal donor and financial information 60 days after the convention or in late September.

    “My intention was to get this information to the public during the convention so that people could react during the convention,” said Slaughter. His attorney argued in court last week the documents became public once they were filed with the city agency. 

    “The presence in Philadelphia of several thousand delegates from among 146 million registered voters has no bearing on the purported urgency of immediate disclosure,” Fletman wrote. Read the full opinion here. 

    “Even in our current culture of lightning speed access to information, the sun does not shine 24 hours a day,” Fletman concluded. “The decision of the host committee to withhold information about its donors and their contributions until the end of September may well be unwise, and certainly does not promote the value of transparency, but nothing in the law requires otherwise.”

    The host committee argued releasing the documents early would jeopardize efforts to raise the $60 million needed for the DNC. 

    “We appreciate that the court has recognized that the host committee is required to be among the most transparent of all organizations by federal law,” said host committee spokeswoman Anna Adams-Sarthou in a statement. “This ruling emphasizes the fact that we have been following federal guidelines for the last two years and will help us complete the work to put on a successful convention.”

    According to Adams-Sarthou, the host committee still needs to raise $1 million, even as the four-day convention is already underway. 

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