It’s become a cliché to say Philadelphia is “corrupt and contented,” but the facts speak for themselves. In August alone:
- District Attorney Seth Williams under fire for failing to report $160,050 in gifts
- Campaign expenditures of the DA under FBI investigation
- Girlfriend of the DA charged with slashing tires of two city-owned vehicles
- Offices and home of union leader and kingmaker John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty raided by FBI
- Offices of City Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon raided by FBI
- Campaign financial records of Mayor Jim Kenney subpoenaed by FBI
Also in August, Controller Alan Butkovitz issued an audit detailing questionable spending by the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia during Michael Nutter’s administration.
Located in City Hall, the Fund does not accept unsolicited funding requests. All grant proposals must be sponsored by the Mayor or a Deputy Mayor.
The Fund’s board of directors is comprised of six members, three of whom work for Mayor Kenney, including Sylvie Gallier-Howard, Chief of Staff of the Department of Commerce. Among the “independent” members is Councilman Henon, who, by the way, is still on Johnny Doc’s payroll.
Andrew Frishkoff’s organization, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, received grant(s) from the Fund. Treasurer David Streim’s group, Nonprofit Finance Fund, is sponsored, in part, by - wait for it - the Department of Commerce.
Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized that it was “time to end slush fund”:
Philadelphia spent $1.7 million last year to keep Forbes “Under 30 Summit” in the city, according to WHYY, or upward of $1,000 for each of the callow go-getters who attended the October gathering of young entrepreneurs. Was it worth it? Former Mayor Michael Nutter, who tirelessly pursued buzzy events to burnish the city’s image, obviously thought so. Mayor Kenney, on the other hand, has expressed mild reservations.
While he’s weighing the city’s substantial investment in the festival, he might also consider its source. A city-controlled nonprofit known blandly as the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, it subsidizes a variety of causes chosen by the mayor, largely with revenue from the Philadelphia Marathon.
The call to dissolve the Fund was echoed by Jay McCalla, a senior official in the Ed Rendell and John Street administrations:
Why does the mayor need to lay his hands on $5 million to $10 million (or any portion of it) at the spur of the moment?
Butkovitz released an audit concluding that almost $400,000 of this fund had been spent, in part, on global travel, alcohol, parties, and $100,000 in undocumented credit card charges. As eyebrow-raising as these expenses are, the controller makes the added point that none of this was approved by the board that nominally oversees the fund.
The City has asserted its right to a 30-day extension to respond to my Right-to-Know request for documents related to unapproved grants. In the meantime, I will stop by Room 708 to inspect the Fund’s Form 990 for 2015. Needless to say, if my request is denied, I will file a complaint with the IRS.
While Democrats in Philly run for cover from the FBI, it is time for Mayor Kenney to shut down this political “slush fund.”