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Koch files ethics, but not court, complaint

Published by Tim McNulty on .

We were busy Friday, but for the record: the Jeff Koch camp went ahead as promised and filed an ethics complaint against District 3 incumbent Bruce Kraus for some of his campaign donations, which they argue violate the 2009 campaign finance bill that he and others approved in a 8-0 vote.

As we've noted, the law has so far proven unenforceable and it's unclear exactly what its financing limits are: candidates can either take only $2,000/$1,000 from PACs/individuals (as the Koch camp argues) or take double that counting for both the primary and general elections (as the Kraus camp argues, and is the way it works with the FEC).

Said Koch's campaign manager Tim Brinton:

Bruce Kraus is a hypocrite who refuses to follow his own laws. How can we trust him with the welfare of the city of Pittsburgh when he cannot follow the very laws that he wrote and is subject to? Its deceptive, hypocritical and reveals a dangerous proclivity to say one thing, do another and violate the law for his own benefit.

Mr. Koch is considering all possible avenues in an attempt to address this matter. He is filing his ethically sound financial disclosure reports to the Allegheny County Board of Elections by todays deadline.

Chris Potter argues the Kraus camp is probably in the right on this one, and I tend to agree with him. Furthermore, ethics complaints in Pittsburgh are a dime-a-dozen -- if the Koch camp was really serious about the allegations they could take the dispute to Common Pleas Court, as the law also allows. In a quick look through the council race finance reports, we saw plenty of candidates bumping up against the finance ceiling, but nobody explicitly going over them. It looks like the rules won't be clarified until after the primary, and even then their full import (as we've said before) will be on the 2013 mayor's race, not this round of council races.

PS, City Solicitor Dan Regan got back to us Friday after we asked for his take on the finance bill, but he said he couldn't comment because of the pending ethics complaint.

UPDATE: The Vince Pallus campaign say it has filed a similar  ethics complaint against incumbent Darlene Harris. Their full news release is after the jump:

PITTSBURGH, May 9, 2011 – “Mrs. Harris is in violation of the campaign finance reform that she, as Pittsburgh’s Council president and candidate for the 2011 Primary election, is obliged to follow,” said Vince Pallus, Democratic candidate for City Council District One.

Pallus filed an ethics complaint with the Allegheny County Board of Elections Thursday May 5th, pointing out the two campaign contributions Mrs. Harris received from the political action committee Western PA Laborers PAC on Sept. 16th, 2010 for $2,500 and again on December 31st, 2010 for $1,500 for a total of $4,000.

“It’s outrageous that a career politician and council president, who is claiming to have 30 years of political experience, could make such egregious errors,” Pallus said.

Under the current law passed by Pittsburgh City Council, PAC contribution limits are set at $2,000 maximum per election, per PAC. Mrs. Harris carried over these and other funds to the current 2011 primary campaign.

“That’s only the beginning of the list of illegal contributions Mrs. Harris collected from donors. We’ve now seen her campaign committee accept five more contributions that exceed the limits that I and many other candidates have vigorously followed,” added Pallus.

The new violations include the following campaign contributions, which exceed maximum contribution limits:

·         $4,000 from the Local 66 PAC Club
·         $3,000 combined from the Plumbers Local Union PAC
·         $4,000 from the IBEW Local Union 5 PAC
·         $4,000 from the Moderate Americans
·         $1,500 from Frederic Sargent

These violations of the campaign finance regulations have penalty provisions that may result in fines and other sanctions to Mrs. Harris and her campaign treasurer. These actions show Mrs. Harris’ callous attitude toward the law, the voters in her district, her campaign and financial supporters.

The exact laws which the candidate refuses to abide by are:

198.02 (1) – No person shall make political contributions to a candidate per covered election that exceeds the following limitation: Candidates for City Elected Office: One thousand dollars ($1,000.00)

198.02 (2) – No political committee shall make political contributions to a candidate per covered election that exceed the following limitations: Candidates for City Elected Office: Two thousand dollars ($2,000.00)

The penalty for such violations as stated in the ordinance:

198.06 (d) – In addition to the penalties as presently provided by law, any person found by the Board in violation of this Chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty of two thousand dollars ($2,000.00) for each violation committed. Additionally, if a violation is determined by the Board, any person in violation of this Chapter may be subject to further penalties as determined by the Board.

In accordance with this ordinance, Councilwoman Darlene Harris and her treasurer potentially face thousands of dollars in penalties for multiple violations.

“When I entered this race with the hopes to represent my council district, I knew that there had been plenty of poor decisions made by the incumbent that led to wasteful use of Pittsburgh tax dollars, and I had not envisioned illegal tactics being used by Mrs. Harris to assure herself re-election,” Pallus concluded.

In his original ethics case filing, Vince Pallus requested that a Board of Elections be convened to investigate these violations in full. A new filing will be made to cover the additional violations discovered on the current 2011 campaign finance report.

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