Super-sizing your clout

    New evidence of the reach of Philadelphia’s most politically-powerful labor union is revealed in a fascinating story by the Daily News’ Bob Warner.

    Though the city’s campaign finance law limits contributions to a municipal candidate from any political committee to $10,600, Warner reports that City Councilman Bill Green got at least $40,000 last year from the committee run by Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

    The story traces contributions from Local 98’s own political committee to other more obscure committees with ties to the union or its Business Manager, John Dougherty. Warner finds those committees heavily supported candidates favored by the union, and that “none of the [committees] would have had enough money to make the contributions to Green without sizable donations from the union.”

    This is all perfectly legal, because of some language in the city’s campaign finance law that should soon be tightened in legislation now before Council.

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    Dougherty didn’t return Warner’s calls.

    I got him on the phone yesterday to ask whether he and his union might have legally circumvented the intent of the campaign finance limits, giving far more to his favored candidates than the single committee limit of $10,600.

    Dougherty said he hadn’t read Warner’s piece and wouldn’t comment on any of the information it presented, such as the names of political committees that were almost wholly funded by the union’s political committee.

    “There’s no willful intent to violate anything,” Dougherty told me. “I follow the law everywhere. The most vetted guy in the region is John Dougherty, and the most vetted organization is local 98….Every single dollar that we donate has been scrutinized for years.”

    I also asked Councilman Green about his bounty of support from committees associated with the electricians’ union.

    “There are rules by which we run elections, just like basketball and football games, and you play to win, by the rules,” he said, adding “my motto in governing has always been ‘beholden to none, accountable to all.'”

    When I asked Green if he knew whether three committees that gave him $30,000 had close ties to the electricians’ union, he said, “I don’t discuss my contributors.”

    Warner’s story will be one of his last for the Philadelphia Daily News, which he’s leaving tomorrow after 32 years at the paper. He’s a long time friend who’s taught me as much about journalism as anybody I know.

    He’ll be starting a new gig at the Inquirer soon. I’ll look forward to reading his work there.

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