Reward Performance – fund the Ethics Board

    Yesterday, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics completed the long, arduous process of developing regulations to monitor lobbying activity in the city for the first time ever.

    Today, the board announced it had wrapped up nine investigations into campaign finance violations with settlements and numerous fines. City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown’s campaign will pay $6,500 for failing to report a bunch of large contributions during the spring primary campaign.

    You see all the settlements here.

    Any sentient observer of Philadelphia politics would have to conclude this city needs a smart, independent agency to give guidance on ethics issues and aggressively enforce rules when politicians decide they don’t apply to them.

    This Ethics Board has proven its mettle over the past four years by going after Council members, union officials, members of Congress and sitting judges, including both liberals and conservatives.

    But the board is thinly-staffed, and needs more than the city is giving.

    When the board was formed, it was to be funded at a level of $1 million a year for the first two years, and at a reasonable level to accomplish its mission after that.

    It’s now down to $810,000 a year, and its duties have expanded.

    Case in point: When the new lobbying law was enacted last year, the board’s chairman Richard Glazer wrote Mayor Nutter asking for another $130,000 for additional staff.

    The board’s executive director Shane Creamer said the mayor never answered the letter, and when the board asked for a meeting with the city’s budget director this spring to plead its case, the request for a meeting was denied.

    Yesterday Glazer said the staff shortage will make it harder for the board to do ethics and campaign finance training, and is beginning to impair enforcement efforts.

    This is not good.

    Times are hard for the city, and many municipal departments have had to do with less.

    But ethics and integrity have long been a priority for this mayor, and a few hundred thousand a year seems a reasonable investment in integrity in the election process.

    You wouldn’t ask the police department to start patrolling Camden without more resources.

    The Ethics Board can’t add implementation of the lobbying law to all the monitoring, training and enforcement it’s already doing (not to mention defending lawsuits from politicians unhappy about its work) without stretching its staff to the breaking point.

    Integrity isn’t free. The city funds its inspector general’s office and pays for a chief integrity officer.

    Seems reasonable to me to fund the Ethics Board at the $1 million a year level that was required when the board was formed.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.