Even after spending $2 million on television ads to make himself a mayoral contender, businessman Tom Knox still has more in his campaign treasury than all four of his Democratic rivals combined, according to year-end finance reports released yesterday.

Knox reported $3.4 million in cash as of Dec. 31, more than double what any of the other candidates has been able to raise under the city's new campaign finance law, now being put to the test in a mayor's race for the first time.

The city ordinance says that individuals can give a candidate no more than $5,000 a year, while law firms, unions, political action committees and other unincorporated businesses can give no more than $20,000 a year.

But the limits do not apply to what a candidate gives himself, thanks to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that treat such expenditures as free speech, protected by the Constitution.

Knox has lent some $5 million to his own campaign and talks of providing as much as $10 million more.

For candidates without extraordinary personal wealth, the new law put a premium on raising as much as possible by the end of the year - then going back to many of the same donors for more money in 2007.

The year-end reports suggest that two of the mayoral candidates - former City Councilman Michael Nutter and state Rep. Dwight Evans - were successful at the front end of that strategy.

Nutter, a strong backer of the new contribution limits, reported a cash balance of just under $1.4 million at the end of 2006, and showing donations from more than 1,400 individuals and organizations.

Evans' mayoral campaign reported $1.2 million on hand, with more than 1,300 donors.

Even Knox displayed the beginnings of a political base, listing 345 donors apart from himself.

Meanwhile, the city's two congressman candidates, Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah, lagged the field after long delays in announcing their candidacies.

Brady, who didn't officially enter the race until last week, reported $404,513 in his mayoral treasury, from 139 donors, and Fattah, who declared himself a candidate in November, had only $391,429, coming from just 146 donors.

The Fattah camp told reporters that its fundraising picked up considerably in recent weeks, adding more than $300,000 in January.

Fattah reported he has sent a letter to past contributors to his Congressional campaigns, asking their permission to transfer donations to his mayoral committee - potentially adding another $400,000 to his totals.

With or without contribution limits, the presence of a candidate like Knox - a multi-millionaire willing to finance his own campaign - is a first in modern Philadelphia history.

Despite the new limits, the campaign cash on hand at the end of 2006 was comparable to the fund-raising eight years ago, the last time that multiple Democratic candidates went after an open mayor's office.

At the end of 1998, attorney Marty Weinberg had amassed $2.4 million and, like Knox, he promised a heavy advertising campaign to boost his name recognition. With backing from incumbent mayor Ed Rendell, John Street had piled up nearly $1.7 million. Evans and former Councilwoman Happy Fernandez had raised more than $700,000 each, while former Councilman John White had $570,000.

Their total was $6.1 million, not far from the $6.8 million that the five Democratic candidates reported yesterday.

The new contribution limits are likely to have much more impact in tamping down contributions this year. In both 1999 and 2003, donations by a number of law firms, unions and developers jumped to $100,000 or more. *