DN editorial: Nutter's defense of Mayor's Fund spending rings hollow

FORMER MAYOR Nutter posted a 1,500-word statement on Monday that criticized recent stories about spending done by the Mayor's Fund for Philadelphia during his time in office.

In truth, it was more of a rant - along the lines of those seen in the comments sections of online sites, signed by someone using a handle such as MADHATTER.

Much of Nutter's anger was directed at Ashley Del Bianco, a staffer at the fund, who raised questions about some of the expense-account spending by former City Representative Desiree Peterkin-Bell, who chaired the fund during Nutter's years as mayor.

The questions dealt with travel and entertainment expenses and many, many Uber rides during the Peterkin-Bell era. Del Bianco first went to City Controller Alan Butkovitz with her concerns. When he issued a preliminary report last August, Nutter was not amused. He called the controller a "liar, a snake and a hypocrite."

In his statement this week, he called Del Bianco a backstabber, unscrupulous, deceptive and dishonest. And that's just for starters.

He said, in so many words, that if Del Bianco had any questions about spending by the fund, she should have raised them with Peterkin-Bell or Nutter himself. He also was clearly stung by what he saw as an assault on his integrity. He suggested he ran a clean operation and would never allow misspending.

He maintained that most of the expenditures were made by administrative staff members who worked under Peterkin-Bell. He went on to say, "These press reports want to create a narrative that somehow imply that because the credit cards are assigned to a particular department or office, that the leader of that department or office is actually personally making the purchases."

Except the credit card in question was issued in Peterkin-Bell's name.

The whole brouhaha had the effect of shedding light on a little-known entity in city government. The Mayor's Fund for Philadelphia is a nonprofit that gives out $600,000 to $1 million in grants each year, according to filings with the IRS. It gets most of its money from the proceeds from the Philadelphia Marathon, a city-sponsored event that costs about $2.5 million to run, but takes in about $4 million a year in entry fees paid by runners. The additional money is put into the fund.

The fund gives to many worthy causes, usually in small grants. It recently put out $60,000 to help pay for a Joe Frazier statue. It has given to Project HOME and the Horticultural Society. Some of the grants are head scratchers - for instance, $112,000 given out in 2014 to 10 athletic leagues in the Northeast.

We see the fund as glorified walking-around money, the term given to the money politicians give to civic, social and charitable groups, hoping that, by doing good, they also will do well with the voters.

In recent years, the fund has had administrative costs averaging about $900,000, including salaries, advertising, travel and office expenses.

We have gone on the record as saying we do not favor politicians running nonprofits - both raising and spending money without oversight or public disclosure.

That said, we can suggest a surefire way to avoid problems with the Mayor's Fund in the future. Take it out of the realm of city government, and turn the money over to the Philadelphia Foundation.

The foundation is a community-based nonprofit that oversees over 900 funds. (Full disclosure: The Philadelphia Foundation controls the special assets fund, which is the sole member of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism LLC, the owner of the Daily News, Inquirer and philly.com.) The Kenney administration could turn the Mayor's Fund into what is called a donor-designated fund at the Philadelphia Foundation. The mayor would still have a say in how the money is spent, but the foundation would take over administrative duties, additional fundraising and investment of the fund's assets. It has a professional staff to do all of this - probably for much less than $900,000 a year.

No more embarrassing stories about expense account spending. No more Uber rides. No more rants. It is a sensible solution to past and future problems.