It's never a good day for a political candidate when his campaign is cited by the Philadelphia Ethics Board for campaign finance violations. Such is the fate of mayoral candidate state Sen. Anthony Williams.
In a settlement agreement, the campaign has agreed to pay $8,000 in fines and $27,000 in other costs. But it's also fair to note that on a key element of the board's case, the campaign wasn't found to have violated the law -- though it agreed to segregate $63,000 of its campaign funds and not spend it on Williams' mayoral campaign.
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It's a pretty complicated case stemming from the fact that, last year, Williams accepted big contributions to his state Senate campaign committee, and then in November converted that committee into his vehicle for the mayor's race, where there are contribution limits.
The fight was over how much of that money the campaign could use for the mayoral campaign. The ethics board had regulations about what are called "excess pre-candidacy contributions," and the campaign's lawyer, Adam Bonin, said the whole thing amounted an accounting dispute over the acceptable use of the big checks.
"We believed we had handled them correctly. The board disagreed," Bonin told me. "We could have gone to court with this. We could have had an exciting hearing with their accountants and our accountants arguing with each other, day after day. But the better course of action was to move on here."
So the campaign agrees not use $62,927 from those big contributions, and while the ethics board believes the campaign was "out of compliance" with regulations, the campaign wasn't cited for violating the law on that issue, and was not fined.
The campaign did admit violations of the law on other campaign finance matters -- accepting some oversized individual contributions and filing reports that included inaccuracies or omissions. That's what led to the $8,000 in civil penalties.
Shane Creamer, executive director of the ethics board, said the settlement is a message to all candidates.
"I think it demonstrates that the board is paying attention to the campaign finance disclosures, and that we will vigorously follow up on violations," he said.
You can read the full settlement agreement here.