When a supporter of City Councilman David Oh offered to give beyond what the city's campaign finance laws allowed to his reelection bid, Oh didn't turn the man away. Instead, the city's ethics board said Monday, Oh told him to give to another political committee, which then funneled the money to Oh's coffers.
Oh, an at-large Republican councilman seeking reelection, agreed to give the city $4,600 of the excess contribution and pay a $2,000 fine.
In an interview, Oh said the mistake was unintentional and that what he did was legal before campaign finance laws changed.
"I did not understand the law had changed. I thought it was legal to do what I did," he said. "You don't know what you don't know."
Shane Creamer, executive director of the Ethics Board, said that was incorrect. What Oh did has always been against city campaign laws, Creamer said.
It once was legal for pass-through contributions to be made by political action committees, but it was never allowed for individuals, Creamer said.
The board began investigating Oh in April, after a tipster alleged the candidate received illegal contributions through the political committee for Dave Henderson, a former candidate for state representative.
The board said that in November 2014, John Lee offered to give Oh $20,000 for his campaign, far above the city's annual $2,900 limit on individual contributions. Oh, after meeting with Lee, sent the man a text message outlining how the contribution could be made. Oh asked Lee and his wife to each write $2,500 checks to his campaign.
"Finally, please write a check to 'Committee to Elect Dave Henderson' in the amount of $5,000," Oh added by text. "Mail it to me or bring it to your office and I'll have someone pick it up."
Through multiple donations in 2014 and 2015, Lee and his wife gave $10,000 to Henderson's committee, money that was soon given to Oh, the board said.
Lee, who has agreed to pay a $750 penalty, said in an affidavit that he has "minimal experience in making political contributions" and that he relied on Oh, whom he has known for about eight years, to tell him how to do so.
Lee said he had never met Henderson and believed his committee was part of Oh's campaign.
Creamer said Henderson did not violate any city laws and will not be fined. He said he could not recall another case where a candidate directed a contributor to give to another group as a means of violating the limits.
"It is unusual," he said.
Creamer said he could not confirm or deny if the case had been referred to the District Attorney's Office, which has the authority to pursue cases where state campaign laws may have been violated.
Also on Monday, Council at-large candidate Helen Gym agreed to give the city $11,500 that was illegally donated to her campaign.
Gym, a Democrat, will not be fined because she did not know the contribution came from a group that had already met its contribution limit, the board said.
That contribution was made to Gym by the American Federation of Teachers' state chapter in March. The board said the money actually came from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which gave it to the state chapter after it had already given Gym the $11,500 allowed.
According to an agreement entered last month with the Ethics Board, PFT president Jerry Jordan did not "explicitly direct" that the money go to Gym's campaign, but there was an implied suggestion that the funds be used for that purpose. Under the agreement, the PFT agreed to pay $1,500 for the violation.
Gym was not accused of wrongdoing, and the board said she was unaware the contribution from the state chapter was a pass-through from the PFT.
Brendan McPhillips, Gym's spokesman, said the campaign took the money off its books as soon as it became aware that the contribution was improper.