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City of Philadelphia

FAQ

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City of Philadelphia
Board of Ethics
One Parkway Building
1515 Arch Street, 18th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19102-1504

Phone: (215) 686-9450
Fax: (215) 686-9453
Note: A searchable PDF of these Frequently Asked Questions is available here.

Basics, Including Contribution Limits

What is City Elective Office?

Under the City Campaign Finance Law, City elective office consists of the offices of the Mayor, District Attorney, City Controller, Sheriff, City Commissioner, and City Council.

What is a covered election for purposes of the City Campaign Finance Law?

Under the City Campaign Finance Law, a covered election is defined as any primary, general, or special election for City elective office.

Who is a candidate for purposes of the City Campaign Finance Law?

Under the City Campaign Finance Law, a candidate is defined as an individual who: (i) files nomination papers or petitions for City elective office; or (ii) publicly announces his or her candidacy for City elective office.

Which candidates are subject to the contribution limits?

The contribution limits only apply to contributions to candidates for City elective office, which consists of Mayor, City Council, District Attorney, City Controller, Sheriff, and City Commissioner.

Note: Judicial candidates and candidates for Register of Wills are considered State candidates and are therefore not subject to contribution limits under the City Campaign Finance Law.

What is a contribution?

A contribution is:

i.   Any money, gift, forgiveness of debts, loan, or thing having a monetary value incurred or received by a candidate's campaign for use in advocating or influencing the election of the candidate;

ii.  Any in-kind contribution or post-candidacy contribution; or

iii. Any money, gift, forgiveness of debt, or loan incurred or received to pay fees and costs incurred in any civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding arising directly out of the candidate's campaign or with respect to a covered election. Examples include a nomination petition challenge, a recount proceeding, or a Board investigation.

What is an in-kind contribution?

An in-kind contribution is:

i.   The provision of any goods or services directly to a candidate's campaign without charge or at a charge that is less than the usual and normal charge for such goods or services;

ii.  The payment or agreement to pay a third party to provide goods or services to a candidate's candidate political committee, if the goods and services are in fact provided; or

iii. Any expenditure that advocates or influences the nomination or election of a candidate that is coordinated with that candidate's campaign, as provided in Subpart H of Regulation 1.

The term "in-kind contribution" does not include volunteer labor as described in Regulation 1, 1.11(g)

What are the limits on contributions to candidates for Philadelphia City elective office?

From an Individual (including contributions made through one or more political committees), per calendar year:

$3,000 – To a Candidate
$3,000 – To a Candidate’s Litigation Fund Committee
$3,000 – To a Former Candidate (Post-Candidacy Contribution*)

From a Political Committee, Partnership, Sole Proprietorship or Other Form of Business Organization (including contributions made through one or more political committees), per calendar year:

$11,900 – To a Candidate
$11,900 – To a Candidate’s Litigation Fund Committee
$11,900 – To a Former Candidate (Post-Candidacy Contribution*)

The limits are adjusted every four years to account for inflation. The limits were last adjusted in January 2016.

*Post-candidacy contributions may be given between the general election and the end of the calendar year and in each year that follows the year of the general election, except that for an unsuccessful primary election candidate, post-candidacy contributions may be given between the primary election and the end of the calendar year and in each year that follows the primary election.


When is a contribution received by a candidate's campaign?

For purposes of the City Campaign Finance Law, a contribution is considered received on the date of its acceptance.  As a general rule, the date of acceptance of a contribution is the date that the contribution comes into possession of a candidate's campaign.

Mailbox:  If a contribution is delivered to a mailbox, the date that the contribution is accepted is the date on which the candidate's campaign finds the contribution in the mailbox.

Credit Card:  If a contribution is made by credit card through a website, the date that the contribution is accepted is the date on which the contributor submits his or her credit card information on the website.

In-Kind Contributions Directly to a Campaign:  If a person makes an in-kind contribution by providing goods or services directly to a candidate's campaign, the date of acceptance of that contribution is the date that the candidate's campaign receives the goods or services.

In Kind Contributions via Third Party:  If a person makes an in-kind contribution by paying or agreeing to pay a third party to provide goods or services to a candidate political committee, the date of acceptance of that contribution is the date of the agreement to pay, if the goods and services are in fact provided.

What is an expenditure to influence a City covered election?

An expenditure to influence a City covered election includes:

i.   Any direct contribution to a candidate for City elective office;

ii.  Any expenditure that is coordinated with a candidate for City elective office and is therefore an in-kind contribution to the candidate;

iii. Any independent expenditure promoting or opposing a candidate for City elective office; or

iv. Any expenditure for an electioneering communication, which is any broadcast, cable, radio, print, Internet, or satellite communication that: (a) promotes, attacks, supports, or opposes a candidate; or (b) within 50 days of a covered election, names, refers to, includes, or depicts a candidate in that covered election.

Who must file Campaign Finance Reports with the Board of Ethics

Are candidates for City elective office and their candidate political committees required to file campaign finance reports with the Board of Ethics?

Yes. All candidates for City elective office and their candidate political committees are required to file campaign finance reports electronically with the Board of Ethics.  The reporting cycles and due dates are available here.

Are political committees other than candidate political committees required to file campaign finance reports with the Board of Ethics?

Yes.  A political committee must electronically file a campaign finance report with the Board of Ethics for any reporting cycle in which the committee makes an expenditure or incurs debt to influence a covered election, which includes contributions made to a candidate for City elective office.  The reporting cycles and due dates are available here.

Are former candidates for City elective office and their candidate political committees required to file campaign finance reports with the Board of Ethics?

Yes.  The candidate committee of a former candidate must electronically file a campaign finance report with the Board of Ethics for any reporting cycle for which the committee is required to file a report or statement with the City Commissioners or Secretary of State that discloses:

i.   Contributions accepted or expenditures made to pay off debt incurred to influence the outcome of a covered election;

ii.  Contributions accepted or expenditures made to pay for transition or inauguration to City elective office or to pay off debt incurred for transition or inauguration to City elective office;

iii. Debt incurred to influence the outcome of a covered election; or

iv. Expenditures made to influence the outcome of a covered election, including contributions made to a candidate for City elective office.

Are judicial candidates required to file campaign finance reports with the Board of Ethics?

In general, judicial candidates are not required to file campaign finance reports with the Board of Ethics.  A judicial candidate committee, however, must electronically file a campaign finance report with the Board of Ethics for any reporting cycle in which the committee makes an expenditure or incurs debt to influence a City covered election, which includes contributions made to a candidate for City elective office.  The reporting cycles and due dates are available here.

Filing Information

How do I file campaign finance reports?

Campaign finance reports must be filed electronically. You can use SmartClient, a free software program available from the Department of Records website, to electronically file campaign finance reports. If you would like to learn more about how to electronically file a campaign finance report, please visit the Department of Records website. For assistance with electronic filing, please contact campaign.finance@phila.gov.

Must a sworn statement form be submitted with a campaign finance report?

Yes.  The individual who inputs the data in the electronic campaign finance report and electronically submits it must also sign a sworn statement form attesting that the information contained in the report is true and correct.  A signed copy of this form must then be mailed or emailed to:

Department of Records
Room 156, City Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215-686-2262
campaign.finance@phila.gov

Filers can also generate and print a sworn statement form from SmartClient - a free software program available from the Department of Records website that can be used to electronically file campaign finance reports.

Other Restrictions Related to Contributions

What are the rules regarding contributions received by an individual before he or she becomes a candidate?

Once an individual becomes a candidate under the City Campaign Finance Law, he or she may not spend excess pre-candidacy contributions to influence his or her election. An "excess pre-candidacy contribution" is the portion of a pre-candidacy contribution to a political committee that, had it been made to a candidate for City elective office, would have been in excess of the contribution limits.

How should a candidate handle excess pre-candidacy contributions?

A candidate may not spend excess pre-candidacy contributions to:

i.   Influence the outcome of a covered election in which he or she is a candidate;

ii.  Pay for the candidate's transition to City elective office; or

iii. Pay for the candidate's inauguration.

A candidate must exclude all excess pre-candidacy contributions from his or her candidate political committee checking account by one of the following methods:

i.  Transferring excess pre-candidacy contributions to a segregated pre-candidacy excess contribution account (“SPEC” account) within ten days after he or she becomes a candidate; or

ii. Returning excess pre-candidacy contributions to the contributors who made those contributions within ten days after he or she becomes a candidate.

Example:  On November 1, 2016, Friends of Candidate A receives a contribution of $3,500 from Mr. B ($3000 within limits, $500 excess) and a contribution of $3,500 from Ms. C (same). On December 1, 2016, Candidate A declares her candidacy for the May 2017 City Controller primary election. On or before December 11, 2016, Friends of Candidate A must exclude $1,000 ($500 excess from Mr. B + $500 excess from Ms. C) from its checking account.

Are there rules about how candidates may use political committees and checking accounts?

Yes. A candidate may use only one political committee and one checking account for the City elective office sought. All contributions for such office must be deposited into this account, and all expenditures for that office must be made from the same account. Funds collected in other political or non-political accounts may not be used to influence a City covered election.

A candidate may, however, establish a separate litigation fund committee to receive contributions and make expenditures solely to pay professional fees incurred in defense of a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding arising directly out of the conduct of the candidate’s campaign or the candidate's participation in the election.

A candidate may also use a single savings account for the City elective office sought and may transfer funds between his or her candidate political committee checking account and a single savings account so long as:

i.   The candidate establishes the savings account at the same bank that has his or her checking account;

ii.  The candidate deposits all contributions into his or her checking account before transferring such funds to the savings account;

iii. The candidate does not make any expenditures or withdrawals directly from the savings account, but first transfers funds to the checking account in order to make expenditures or withdrawals; and

iv. Within three business days of the establishment of the savings account, the candidate shall notify the Board by postal mail or email sent to the attention of the Board's Executive Director that he or she has established a savings account.

How do the rules regarding contribution limits apply to checks made from joint checking accounts?

A contribution check from a joint checking account is attributable only to the joint account holder who signs the check. If both account holders sign the check, the contribution is apportioned evenly between them.

Example 1: District Attorney Candidate A receives a check from the joint account of John and Jane Smith. The check is for $1,000 and is signed by both John and Jane. John and Jane have each made a contribution of $500 to Candidate A.

Example 2: Controller Candidate A receives a check from the joint account of John and Jane Smith. The check is for $1,000 and is only signed by John. Because only John signed the check, he has made a contribution of $1,000 to Candidate A.

Is there a limit on the amount that a candidate may spend from his or her personal resources on his or her campaign?

No.  Note, however, that if a candidate contributes $250,000 or more of his or her own personal resources to his or her own campaign, the contribution limits for all candidates for that City elective office double.

Additional Information About the Campaign Finance Law

How is the City Campaign Finance Law enforced and what are possible penalties for violations?

The Board of Ethics is authorized to enforce the City Campaign Finance Law by either filing an action in court or through and administrative adjudication. The maximum penalty for most violations of the Campaign Finance Law is $2,000.

The penalty for acceptance of an excess contribution is three times the excess portion or $2,000, whichever is less, but no penalty is assessed if the candidate returns the excess within 15 days of receipt and so notifies the Board of Ethics.

The penalty for late filing of a campaign finance report is $250, and each day after the due date is a separate violation. The maximum penalty is $2,000 for the first 30 days late, plus $1,000 for each additional 30-day period or part thereof.

Where can I find more information about the City Campaign Finance Law?

The Board of Ethics has provided a detailed interpretation of the City Campaign Finance Law in Board Regulation 1, and the Regulation provides helpful definitions and examples. More information regarding the City Campaign Finance Law is available on the Board's website. You can also contact the Board at 215-686-9450.

If you would like to search the City's campaign finance database or learn more about how to file a campaign finance report electronically, please visit the Department of Records website. For assistance with electronic filing, please contact campaign.finance@phila.gov.

For information about the State Election Code, contact the Pennsylvania Department of State at 717-787-5280 or the Philadelphia City Commissioners Office at 215-686-3943.