The Democratic City Committee has $118,000 in debt going back decades
The Democratic City Committee (DCC) has an outstanding debt of over $118,000, according to its latest campaign finance report. Political organizations take out loans and shuffle funds around via cash and in-kind contributions all the time. There wouldn’t be anything unusual about the spare change that is $118,000 — except that the debt dates back 23 years.
The DCC’s report shows two IOUs. The first is a $18,845 bill to Kennedy Printing, a local business that has been supplying ink and images to Philly pols for over 50 years. The date of the charge? May 1992.
Fast forward to 2004. The DCC took out a $100,000 loan from then-Governor Ed Rendell’s campaign war chest. As of June 2015, that six-figure loan is still marked outstanding on the DCC’s finance reports.
No one at the DCC office seemed to be aware of these two debts. Frank L. Oliver, the DCC’s treasurer and the Democratic leader of the 29th Ward, did not return AL DÍA's phone calls and messages.
From a legal standpoint, Rendell could still collect the $100,000 debt from the DCC, though it is unlikely. This reporter asked him if he wanted his money back, and did not receive an answer.
Kennedy Printing Co. also did not return our numerous calls in time for this article.
Political insiders say that, aside from their age, there is nothing unusual about the debts.
"I think in this case as in most, what you'll find is just an omission of reporting and collections as opposed to something nefarious,” said Mustafa Rashed, president of Bellevue Strategies. “Oftentimes debts will come in after the last reports are in, the campaign has ended and operations have winded down. There's usually not a mechanism or process to settle up on something that's finished. And vendors don't have any recourse either."
If neither the vendor nor the debtor complain, who would? Kennedy Printing has a longstanding business relationship with the city’s Democratic machine, as does Rendell. It was called the go-to printing company of the party by none other than Rendell himself. He spoke of James “Jim” Kennedy Sr., who ran the printing business until he passed away in 2004.
"Not many Democratic voters knew his name, but . . . every Democrat who ran for office or held the post of ward leader knew Jim," Rendell told the Inquirer at the time. "And he was the only printer that Democrats in Philadelphia ever used."
If the debts have already been settled in one way or another, why are they still on the record 11 and 22 years later?
One explanation is lazy bookkeeping, which has become the norm for a concerning number of the city’s Democratic organizations.
This week, Philly.com’s The Next Mayor project released two reports detailing the large amounts of both documented and undocumented cash that has changed hands in the 2015 election cycle. There was about $750,000 spent that is currently untraceable. Why? Ask the 26 of the city’s 69 Democratic wards and numerous Political Action Committees (PACs) that failed to file any campaign finance reports with the state — which has been required by law since 1978. Even the DCC’s chair failed to comply with the law.
“That should be a cause of concern for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the Democratic party chair, but it obviously does not. The 34th Ward, which Brady leads, did not file,” Tom Ferrick Jr. wrote in the Next Mayor report.
Such offenses are seldom punished. The fine for late filing is capped at a meager $250. Moreover, PA’s Division of Elections does not regularly identify non-filers unless they are brought to the state’s attention.
It is worth noting that the Democratic City Committee’s campaign finance reports are filed under the slightly misleading name “Philadelphia Democratic Campaign Committee Of,” whereas its Republican counterpart is listed as “Philadelphia Republican City Committee.”