Philadelphia Councilwoman admits tapping campaign funds for personal use

    Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has admitted using thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal purposes and failing to disclose income in required statements. At the same time, her campaign fund failed to disclose dozens of cash transactions.

    The disclosures came in a settlement agreement with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, resolving one of the most serious enforcement actions brought against a city official. The required penalties and payments set an ethics board record — more than $48,000 for Reynolds Brown and her campaign committee.

    The facts in the settlement take 16 pages to recount and, unfortunately for Reynolds Brown, they go way beyond sloppy bookkeeping and late report filings. They raise real questions of integrity.

    According to the settlement, the councilwoman was in financial difficulty in 2010 because her estranged husband wasn’t making mortgage payments. So Reynolds Brown accepted a $3,300 loan from Chaka Fattah Jr., son of the Philadelphia congressman who’s a longtime ally of Reynolds Brown.

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    She repaid that loan with campaign dollars, a transaction disguised as a fictitious expenditure to a printing company. Reynolds Brown knows better than to tap campaign funds for personal use, and because Fattah Jr. is associated with a for-profit charter school funded by the Philadelphia School District, whose budget Reynolds Brown votes on, the loan amounted to a prohibited gift.

    There’s much, much more in the settlement, including dozens of transactions, many in cash, that her campaign fund never reported.

    Another name that figures prominently in the ethics board documents is a city official named John McDaniel. An actor in many of the transactions, he has something of a colorful history himself. According to accounts in the Philadelphia Inquirer, McDaniel resigned another city job in 2002 after questions were raised about whether he’d participated in prohibited political activity.

    And the paper reported that a city inspector general’s report detailed an allegation that McDaniel had stolen $13,000 from a nonprofit agency, which declined to press charges after he repaid the funds.

    The Blondell Reynolds Brown story broke late Monday, and I wasn’t able to reach McDaniel. I’d heard he worked at the city airport now, and I wanted to reach him there, but airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica refused to even say whether he worked there.

    I later learned from the mayor’s press office that McDaniel is director of the airports volunteer program. His salary was listed last fall at $85,000 a year.

    Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald said the mayor will review the ethics board settlement and take appropriate action.

    Reynolds Brown, who’s said in the past she could run for mayor in 2015, was not available for interviews. She released a statement saying she takes full responsibility for the violations and will do everything in her power to make amends.

    You can read the ethics board settlement and appendix here and Reynolds Brown’s statement here.

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