Williams launches big-money ad campaign, Kenney calls on him to return unrelated loot

 Jim Kenney (left) wants Tony Williams (right) to return embattled donations. (NewsWorks, file art)

Jim Kenney (left) wants Tony Williams (right) to return embattled donations. (NewsWorks, file art)

WHYY’s Dave Davies offered up a heckuva scoop with his Friday morning report about an independent expenditure (IE) group backing state Sen. Tony Williams to the tune of a $500,000-plus media campaign which is expected to launch today.

Per Davies, a spokesman for American Cities confirmed a “substantial” ad buy.

Campaign reports filed earlier this year showed that three principals of the Bala Cynwyd-based Susquehanna International Group had contributed $250,000 to the committee last year. One of the three, Joel Greenburg, said in a recent interview that the trio plans to back Williams with significant support in the Democratic primary.

The Susquehanna Group principals, who are strong backers of charter schools and school vouchers, contributed more than $5 million to Williams’ 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

American Cities is registered with the state of Pennsylvania as an “independent expenditure only” committee, which means it can raise unlimited contributions and spend whatever it chooses in the race as long as it doesn’t coordinate with the candidate it supports.

The effort could give Williams an edge over candidates struggling to raise money under the city’s contribution limits.

That last line isn’t to say that Williams is the only candidate benefiting from an IE push, a dynamic for which Lynne Abraham has called on foes to adopt a “people’s pledge” rejection.

Former City Councilman Jim Kenney has received Super PAC funding from Building a Better Pa. and a boost from an IE group called Forward Philadelphia with ties to the American Federation of Teachers.

Around the same time the Williams-IE story broke, NinetyNine received an email from the Kenney campaign which called on the state senator to “return campaign contributions over city limits.”

That hearkens back to a March 19 story in the Inquirer which reported several entities “blew through Philadelphia’s strict limits when they donated money to State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams’ mayoral run.”

Kenney called on the Williams campaign to “return the $20,450 in excess contributions.”

“By refusing to immediately return this money, Senator Williams is blatantly flouting campaign finance limits and taking advantage of the Board of Ethics’ budgetary constraints. Our Ethics Board must have the funding it needs to forcefully penalize campaign finance violations, which is why this week I proposed increasing the Board of Ethics budget by 25 percent.

“While we can’t change rulings made by the Supreme Court, candidates for mayor must respect the city’s laws that are intended to fight the corrupt pay to play system that dominated Philadelphia politics for far too long.”

Al Butler, spokesman for the Williams campaign, didn’t seem to mind responding to a call for comment.

“If it’s transparency that the Kenney campaign truly seeks,” he told NinetyNine, “then it should publicly explain all of the details about contributions, staff and in-kind contributions such as donor lists, research and policy books and staff salaries it received from the campaign of Ken Trujillo.”

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