The Committee of Seventy appreciates the Board of Ethics’ work this past municipal election cycle implementing and enforcing the City’s campaign finance laws. The Board recently announced that it will not appeal a trial court ruling rejecting the Board’s interpretation of its Campaign Finance Regulation (Regulation No. 1). The ruling involves the use of “Super PACs” to circumvent campaign finance limitations, specifically the issue of what constitutes improper coordination between candidates and these committees.
We support the Ethics Board’s decision to focus its limited resources on amending Regulation No. 1 to clarify rules around coordination. It is critical that the language of our campaign finance laws is fully aligned with the legislative intent of the laws. Campaign finance limitations were enacted to help level the financial playing field between candidates and to provide transparency to voters as to who is funding these races. Seventy supports all efforts to close technical loopholes which allow candidates to follow the letter, but not the spirit of the City’s campaign finance laws.
We hope that this action will be the start of a larger conversation regarding the City’s Ethics Code. We renew our calls for a robust review of the City’s Ethics Code, including laws governing conflict of interest and pay-to-play. Hindsight with the chance to effect change is a rare opportunity, but one that allows us to ask and answer three very important questions. First, is the law, as written, effective in preventing the wrong behavior we are seeking to avoid? Second, is compliance with the law overly burdensome, or is there an easier or more effective way to accomplish our purpose? And lastly, are there any unintended consequences to the law that can and should be mitigated?
While ethics rules are often looked at as a burden on those who must abide by them, we believe that a well-defined and robust ethics scheme benefits all. It provides the general public protection and assurance that decisions are being made for the well-being of the citizenry. It provides those seeking to do business with the city well-articulated rules on prohibited versus acceptable behavior. Lastly, it provides employees and officials clear guidelines and offers protections from improper third-party interests.
We look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure our ethics and campaign finance laws are in full service in creating the ethical and effective government all Philadelphians deserve.