Appeals court sides with city ethics panel on debt forgiveness

Commonwealth Court has sided with the city Board of Ethics in a dispute with the Cozen O’Connor law firm over $448,000 in legal fees left over from the 2007 mayoral campaign of U. S. Rep. Bob Brady.

The Cozen firm wanted to forgive the fees in one fell swoop, but the ethics panel said that would constitute a $448,000 campaign contribution, far exceeding the city’s $11,500 annual limit on donations to a candidate from a single source.  The board’s ruling was upheld by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker and now, on appeal, by a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel.

Since Cozen initially filed its case, the ethics board has adopted regulations easing its forgiveness rules, allowing  unlimited amounts to be forgiven to campaign committees ­– like Brady’s -- that have been dormant at least two years. So the practical impact of the court ruling is to uphold the debt rules for future, active campaigns.

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