City of Secretive Brotherly Thugs

A coalition of city and state officials urged a federal judge yesterday to throw out a lawsuit seeking to withhold details of $2.4 million spent on politics last year by the city of Philadelphia's electricians union. The political-action committee set up by the union, Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is fighting a request from the city Board of Ethics for documentation of its spending.

A provision of state election law requires political-action committees to keep detailed records of any expenditures over $25 and make them available to anyone upon request.

But after the Board of Ethics began looking into the union's political activity, the union PAC filed a federal lawsuit in February contending that the disclosure requirement is unconstitutionally broad, a violation of its First Amendment right to free speech.

In responses filed yesterday, the Board of Ethics was joined by the state attorney general and the Pennsylvania Department of State, asking Chief U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III to dismiss the case.

"Local 98's PAC wants to keep some of its expenditures hidden from the public, to pick and choose what they'll show and what they'll hide," said the Ethics Board's executive director, Shane Creamer Jr. "It wants the benefits of being a political action committee, its tax-exempt status and the benefits of giving donations, without any of the responsibilities to show how it's spending the money."

The focus of the Board of Ethics inquiry is not known. Much of its investigative work to date has involved efforts to skirt the city's campaign contribution limits - last year $20,000 for mayoral candidates and $10,000 for others. The union's business manager, John Dougherty, had joined a separate unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the city's right to set contribution limits.

Dougherty is running to replace state Sen. Vincent Fumo.


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