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Rules of the Road

Here are summaries of the most commonly applicable
ethics laws and regulations

State Ethics Act

The State Ethics Act applies to public officials, public employees, candidates and nominees for public office or employment. Important features of the Act are prohibitions against:

  • engaging in conduct that constitutes a conflict of interest between the individual’s position with the City and a financial interest held by the individual, the individual’s family member, or the individual’s or family member’s business;
  • seeking or accepting improper influence;
  • accepting honoraria, which are gifts or tokens of appreciation for a speaking engagement or the like;
  • soliciting or accepting payments contingent on the assumption or acceptance of public employment;
  • contracting with the governmental body by the official/employee’s spouse or child, unless through an open and public process;
  • representation for compensation before a governmental body by former official/employee of that body for one year after leaving office; and,
  • voting on official matters where a conflict of interest exists.

Section 1104 of the State Ethics Act also requires public officials, certain public employees, candidates, and nominees to file annual financial disclosure forms.

City Charter, Article 10

The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter outlines the powers, duties, and structure of City government.  Any changes to the Charter must be approved by voters on Election Day (whereas the Philadelphia Code is the legislation that is passed by City Council and approved by the Mayor).  Article 10 of the Charter prohibits City officers, employees, and certain boards and commission members from engaging in certain kinds of activity, including:

  • Having a direct or indirect interest in any contract with the City of Philadelphia
  • Accepting gratuities for any act or omission in the performance of his/her work
  • Soliciting political contributions
  • Engaging in political activity (for non-elected officials and employees)

The Philadelphia Code/City Ethics Code

The City’s code of laws contains a section called “Standards of Conduct and Ethics,” known informally as the Ethics Code. It applies to all City officials and employees, and boards and commissions members. The Ethics Code generally prohibits:

  • Direct or indirect representation by City officials/employees in any business interest before the City of Philadelphia, outside of the official’s/employee’s scope of official duties;
  • Assistance from former City officials/employees to any person in any transaction, in which the official/employee participated in during his/her City service or employment;
  • Gifts of substantial economic value that might reasonably be expected to influence the official or employee in the discharge of official duties – or the offer or solicitation of such a gift;
  • Direct or indirect disclosure of confidential information concerning the property, government or affairs of the City without proper legal authorization;
  • Conflicts between the official’s or employee’s financial interest, or that of family members or business interests, and the official’s or employee’s official action; and,
  • Directly or indirectly disclosing confidential City information to advance the financial interest of the City official/employee or others.

Section 20-610 of the City Ethics Code also requires certain public officials, and all City boards and commissions members, to file annual financial disclosure forms with the City’s Department of Records and independent Ethics Board.

Mayor's Executive Orders

The Mayor’s Executive Orders apply to all City administration employees, not elected officials or Council.  There are four executive orders governing nepotism, outside employment, gifts and sexual harassment and sexual favoritism. For detailed explanations of the Executive Orders, click here.

Procurement and Contracting

City contracts are awarded through both competitively and non-competitively bid contracts.

Competitively Bid Contracts (Low bid contracts for goods): City Home Rule Charter, Article 8, Section 8-200 of the City Charter governs City procurement of supplies, equipment, repair services, construction, and concessions. It generally requires that all such procurement occur through a competitive, sealed-bidding process, under which contracts for standard supplies, services, and equipment and construction are awarded to the bidder who submits the lowest responsible and responsive bid.

The Procurement Department is the central purchasing and materials management agency for the City. It is responsible for managing competitively-bid contracts and acquiring supplies, equipment, services, and construction at the best price for the City while ensuring a fair and open procurement process.  Contact the Procurement Department at 215-686-4720 or bid.info@phila.gov.

Non-Competitively Bid Contracts (Professional Services contracts): Chapter 17-1400 of the City Code governs procurement of professional services contracts through a process under which these contracts are awarded to the proposer offering the best value to the City, with cost being one of several considerations. Where the lowest-cost proposal is not selected the contracting agency or department must publicly justify its selection.

This law is intended to eliminate both real and perceived favoritism in the award of City contracts and financial assistance based on political contributions – in other words, to eliminate “pay to play” contracting.  It generally:

  • Prohibits the award of City professional services contracts or financial assistance to persons whose campaign contributions exceed contribution limits
  • Requires applicants to disclose:
  1. Campaign contributions to candidates and officials in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and political action committees acting on their behalf
  2. Consultants, or lobbyists, used to assist in obtaining business from the City
  3. The identity of any City official who solicited money from the applicant or its representatives
  4. Subcontractors the applicant intends to use
  5. The identity of any City official who recommended a person or firm to satisfy any minority, woman, disabled, or disadvantaged enterprise requirement

The law requires public posting of:

  • contracting opportunities/RFPs worth more than $30,000
  • campaign contribution disclosure forms of athe pplicants
  • the selected vendor’s name and the City’s rationale for the selection

The website for non-competitively bid contracts is eContractPhilly and is operated by the Finance Department’s Contracting Unit. Contact the Finance Department at 215-686-4914 or at econtractphilly@philly.gov.

Financial assistance also under Chapter 17-1400
To encourage development or activities that benefit the public, the City occasionally offers financial assistance such as grants, tax incentives, or financing as subsidies.  Recipients of financial assistance, valued at more than $50,000, must also disclose campaign contributions.

If you have questions about whether a transaction is Financial Assistance or you would like to view the disclosure reports from Financial Assistance recipients, please contact eContract Philly at 215-686-4914 or at econtractphilly@philly.gov.