By 1903, things had gotten out of hand.
Philadelphia had become “the worst-governed city in America,” the progressive journalist Lincoln Steffens said in a magazine article titled “Philadelphia: Corrupt and Contented.” Not everyone was content, and on Nov. 14, 1904, a group of business and civic leaders that included names still familiar today (Strawbridge, Fels) met at the Philadelphia Bourse to do something about it. Two months later, the Committee of Seventy was up and running.
In the last 20 years, we have led the fight to defend campaign financing limits, established a city Board of Ethics and made lobbying (and the spending associated with it) a matter of public record. Our wars against pay-to-play politics and officeholder pension grabs helped to turn the ideas of better government and fair elections into a movement. We continue to be the go-to organization for trustworthy background and analysis on issues related to Philadelphia’s political culture and its government. We have broadened our scope and expanded our mission in recent years, but we have never lost sight of our founding principle in 1904: “To keep watch and ward over the public interests.”