City ethics board needs better funding

Councilman Bill Green is looking for ways to improve funding for the city's Board of Ethics. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)


Under new rules that kicked in on July 1, lobbyists and lobbying groups must report any lobbying activity to the city’s Board of Ethics within 14 days after it occurs and submit expense reports.

That’s a huge step forward. But these reforms can only be enforced if the board receives adequate funding to acquire electronic-filing software and build a database. The board says it also needs three additional employees to assist in the filing process.


The extra costs could add up to as much as $500,000. Sophie Bryan, Councilman Bill Green’s chief of staff, says Green hopes to “work with stakeholders to identify funding sources,” such as grants and foundations.


But that may not be the answer. Grants helped fund Common Cause’s campaign contribution database, but that was for a much smaller sum of $10,000. And ethics board executive director Shane Creamer says his already understaffed agency doesn’t have the resources to apply for a grant.


Mayor Nutter’s office says he is waiting for the city’s Division of Technology to figure out whether the data collection can be performed in-house. That would be a better solution, from a cost perspective.


It’s important to get the program up and running. Once it is in operation, the board’s costs will be covered in part by the $500 annual registration fees. That money goes into the city’s general fund, but it should be used to help cover the ethics board’s costs.


The city also should consider increasing the modest fee to ensure that the additional cost of effective ethics enforcement is covered. To do otherwise, as Creamer put it, would be “like telling someone to go buy a car but not giving him the money to do it.”