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City Council Gives Initial Thumbs Up To New Rules On Independent PACs

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Less than two weeks after the primary, a city council committee has taken a step toward forcing more disclosure by independent political committees that played a big part in the mayor's race.

So-called "dark money" was a huge concern in the primary, according to the city's Chief Integrity Officer Hope Caldwell.

"A startling portion of the money spent on the mayoral primary came from independent groups not affiliated or coordinated with a candidate."

Caldwell testified to council's Law and Government committee in support of a bill authored by the city's Board of Ethics that would impose new reporting requirements on independent PACs as well as non-profits that spend money in support of a candidate.

Michael Cooke, Director of Enforcement for the Board of Ethics, told council members the changes are sorely needed.

"These entities often try to exploit the laws that have not kept pace with the changes wrought by court decisions, in order to disclose as little of their funding and activity as possible." said Cooke. "As a result, the public does not always know the source of the money now being spent in elections in this country."

The Board's plan, if approved by Council, would affect any person, political committee or non-profit that spends more than $5,000 within 50 days of an election.

They would face four reporting deadlines within the 50 day pre-election period, and they would have to list all funding received and expenditures made, not just the spending that triggered the filing.

In addition, the law would cover not just spending by a person, PAC or non-profit in support of a candidate, but also spending that attacks another candidate in that election.

Caldwell, the Chief Integrity Officer, said the revisions would "shine light" on who is funding elections in the city.

"Philadelphia needs this sunshine to help hold elected officials accountable to the public, and to bolster confidence in our government overall."

The committee, with little debate, approved the measure and sent it to the full council for a vote, which is expected next month. Then, with the mayor's expected signature, these requirements would be in effect for the November general election.

During the mayoral primary, the top two vote-getters, former Councilman Jim Kenney and state Senator Anthony Williams, both benefited from advertising from a few independent committees, spending that far outdistanced spending by the candidates themselves.

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