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Battling over campaign finances

A lawyer for the campaign of City Council candidate Gary Masino is rejecting a claim by Councilman Brian O’Neill’s campaign that the finance reports filed by Friends of Gary Masino document that his campaign broke city campaign finance law.

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City campaign finance laws limit political action committee contributions to city candidates to $12,600 total. Masino’s pre-election campaign finance filing shows a $37,293.03 in-kind contribution received from the state Democratic Party for “Design Production Postage.” The O’Neill campaign believes the funding is for recent mailers received throughout the 10th Council District bearing a “Paid for and authorized by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party” disclaimer.

According to O’Neill’s campaign, neither Masino nor the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania can claim an independent expenditure exception due to Masino’s official reporting and the mailers including the exact same imagery (or imagery that was secured at the same camera shoot) included in Masino’s first television commercial as well as his campaign materials.

“On behalf of the people of Philadelphia, we call on the city ethics board to immediately investigate this serious breach of campaign finance laws,” said Jason Ercole, a spokesman for the O’Neill campaign.

Adam Bonin, a lawyer representing the Masino campaign, dismissed the claim as a “willful distraction.”

“This is a nothing,” he said. “It’s part of a series of nothings.”

Bonin said the O’Neill campaign has failed to remove Masino from the ballot on issues of residency, financial statements and signatures.

“They just keep filing complaints,” he said.

Bonin said the Board of Ethics will either dismiss the complaint right away or decide to call witnesses and review additional documents, possibly leading to a negotiated settlement.

“I’ll be happy to answer,” Bonin said.

Shane Creamer, executive director of the Board of Ethics, said he can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any complaints filed with the Board, due to confidentiality set forth in board regulations.

Creamer said previous excess contribution enforcement matters, as far as he can recall, have all been resolved with settlement agreements, so the Board doesn’t rule on them. Instead, the Board approves proposed settlement agreements negotiated by staff and the respondents (if they agree with the terms).

Creamer indicated that the matter will likely not be resolved for at least 30-60 days. ••

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