Pa. justices let finance limits stay for primary

The delay was a boost for Tom Knox. The next appeal: Brady's ballot spot.

Philadelphia's campaign contribution limits will remain in place for the May 15 Democratic primary, and the question of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady's right to be on the mayoral ballot has been appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The justices agreed to consider striking down the city's campaign caps - just not before the election - and mayoral candidate Tom Knox asked them to remove Brady from the ballot because Brady, who is city Democratic chairman, omitted information on a financial-disclosure form.

The two separate legal developments yesterday came with just 27 days left in the primary campaign.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, another Democratic candidate for mayor, had appealed a lower court's decision upholding the city's right to regulate campaign contributions. The high court said it would hear Fattah's argument, but denied his motion to speed up the case. Two justices, Ronald D. Castille and Thomas G. Saylor, dissented, saying the case should be expedited.

The practical effect: Knox, a wealthy businessman, can continue to spend unlimited amounts of his own money while his opponents try to catch up by raising cash in increments of $5,000 from individuals and $20,000 from political committees.

"There is no possibility that the case can be decided before the primary," court spokesman L. Stuart Ditzen said, adding that both sides in Supreme Court cases normally have at least 70 days to file briefs.

"We respect the court's wisdom as to the timing and how to proceed," Fattah said, adding that he has not challenged a second aspect of the city law that limits what holders of no-bid city contracts can donate to politicians.

Still, it was clear that Fattah was disappointed at a missed opportunity to level the playing field with Knox.

"The law's the law, and life is not always fair," Fattah said. "I'm confident we'll find the will to win."

Knox, who has spent at least $5 million on TV ads, has led in several recent polls. An NBC10 poll released last night had 32 percent of Democrats for Knox, 18 percent for Fattah, 17 percent for Brady, 14 percent for former Councilman Michael Nutter, and 10 percent for State Rep. Dwight Evans. The poll, taken from Saturday through Monday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"It's not a fair fight. Four campaigns are handcuffed, and one has a bottomless pot of gold," said Kate Philips, spokeswoman for Brady.

Nutter, who started the chain of litigation last year to enforce the donation limits, said he was glad that the city's law would stand.

"It's a true victory for the citizens of this city. We're going to have the first election where campaign contributions do not outweigh the voice of the voters," Nutter said.

The high court has not decided whether to take the Brady case.

Attorneys Paul Rosen and Andrew DeFalco, who are being paid by Knox, yesterday appealed Commonwealth Court's Friday ruling in Brady's favor.

If upheld, that ruling "would enable candidates to circumvent the Ethics Act and defeat its whole purpose," the attorneys wrote in a 61-page petition to the Supreme Court.

Steve Cozen, Brady's lawyer, said the appeal was "offensive" because it suggested the judges who ruled against Knox were responding to political pressure rather than interpreting the law.

"The arguments they make have been rejected by four judges because they are false and pernicious," Cozen said.

At issue is whether Brady should be disqualified for having failed to report on his financial-disclosure form income he receives from a city pension and pension payments that the carpenters union made on his behalf.

On March 27, a trial judge from Luzerne County ruled that Brady should have reported the carpenters payment, but could stay on the ballot if he amended the disclosure form.

A three-member Commonwealth Court panel found the disclosure rules so confusing as to excuse Brady for having failed to report either of the items in question.


Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2415 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.