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April 10, 2023

Super PAC backing Philly mayoral candidate Jeff Brown accused of financial violations

The city's Board of Ethics is asking a judge to halt all expenditures from the group, which allegedly coordinated with the Brown campaign to 'circumvent' city law

2023 Election Mayoral Race
Jeff Brown Super PAC @JeffBrownGrocer/Facebook

In a lawsuit filed Monday, the city's Board of Ethics accused a super PAC affiliated with Jeff Brown, the businessman-turned-mayoral candidate, of repeated violations of campaign contribution limits.

The Philadelphia Board of Ethics filed a lawsuit Monday accusing a super PAC affiliated with Jeff Brown of repeated campaign finance violations. 

The suit claims that For a Better Philadelphia coordinated with Brown, one of 11 candidates for mayor, to exceed city campaign contribution limits. It seeks an emergency injunction against the super PAC, and its affiliated nonprofit of the same name, to prevent any further expenditures in support of Brown's campaign, as well as civil penalties totaling $162,000.

The lawsuit also calls for the super PAC to cancel any planned television ads and refrain from mailing or distributing any more literature for Brown's campaign. 

On Monday afternoon, a judge granted the emergency injunction. The full case will be heard on April 24.

The legal action follows reports that Brown's mayoral campaign was under an ethics investigation, which neither the campaign nor the Board of Ethics would confirm to PhillyVoice last month.

The city's campaign contribution limit for an individual is normally $3,100, and $12,600 for a political committee. Thanks to the so-called "millionaire's amendment," which mayoral candidate Allan Domb triggered last December when he spent more than $250,000 of his own money on his campaign, those limits doubled to $6,2000 and $25,200 for all candidates.

But, as outlined in the emergency petition, For a Better Philadelphia allegedly exceeded the latter limit many times, often while coordinating directly with Brown. Expenditures are considered "coordinated" if the campaign has solicited or directed funds to the person or group making the expenditure within a year before the election — in this case, the May 16 primary.

Brown's campaign denied any wrongdoing.

"This is a disagreement on campaign finance between the lawyers," Brown campaign spokesperson Kyle Anderson said in an email. "The bottom line is that Jeff is fighting for change and a new direction for Philadelphia, and that message is resonating. We have complied with the law and neither we, nor the voters, will be distracted by this nonsense."

As far back as last August, the lawsuit claims, Brown was directly involved in the planning of For a Better Philadelphia fundraisers, interacting with donors and even speaking at the events. Brown also was copied on emails about the invitations and guest lists, messages quoted in the suit reveal.

Staff from For a Better Philadelphia — most notably Olivia Scanlon, the group's former fundraising consultant — also later joined Brown's campaign. Scanlon is currently Brown's deputy campaign manager. David Maser, the chairman of the super PAC, also allegedly exchanged information with Brown and Scanlon frequently.

The lawsuit claims the resulting excess expenditures are "on a scale larger than any previously uncovered by the Board of Ethics." 

Since staffers at For a Better Philadelphia already have been warned that their actions violate city campaign finance regulations and allegedly did not stop making excessive contributions, the suit says, "emergency relief is necessary to prevent these continuing illegal expenditures." The Board of Ethics is seeking a cease and desist against the super PAC on all expenditures to influence the primary or general election for mayor, as well as a maximum $162,000 in civil penalties. The number could increase if more violations are found.

This story has been updated with the judge's ruling on the emergency injunction.

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