Councilwoman wants review of Peduto campaign finances
January 9, 2017 9:15 PM
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto leaves the Fairmont Hotel after a campaign fundraiser at Habitat Restaurant Downtown on Nov. 15, 2016.
Councilwoman Darlene Harris questions Kelly Mistick, assistant city solicitor, during a city council meeting in November.
By Adam Smeltz and Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Councilwoman Darlene Harris called for an investigation Monday into Mayor Bill Peduto’s campaign finances, citing an article Sunday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A longtime critic of Mr. Peduto, Mrs. Harris alleged an appearance of pay-to-play practices with mayoral campaign contributors. Peduto spokesman Timothy McNulty said that Mrs. Harris was “completely wrong on the facts” and that “there’s absolutely no evidence” of such activity.
She urged the city Ethics Hearing Board to look into the matter. In a statement, Mrs. Harris said it’s “obvious that the stench of impropriety and pay-to-play politics that this mayor had previously said he’s against is ongoing in this administration.”
The hearing board office could not be reached immediately Monday evening, but Mr. McNulty said the Peduto administration would “welcome any kind of ethics board review of the issue.”
Under city rules, he said, Mrs. Harris would need to file an official complaint but cannot rely on claims that are frivolous or without probable cause. “Based on her statement, she meets neither requirement,” Mr. McNulty said.
Mr. Peduto, long an advocate for reducing the influence of campaign contributions on government, in October 2015 enlisted his chief of staff Kevin Acklin in soliciting donations. Mr. Acklin also chairs the Urban Redevelopment Authority board and is the mayor’s point person on discussions with developers about public subsidies and purchases of public property.
Of the 23 people Mr. Acklin said he contacted, 12 of them, or their firms, had subsequent business before the URA. During the last quarter of 2015, the 70 contributions associated with the people on the list totaled more than $118,000. The Peduto campaign raised a total of $627,000 that year, the Post-Gazette found.
Mr. Acklin said he made the calls on vacation time and did not discuss their development projects while soliciting donations.
There is no law barring city or URA officials from making campaign-related calls on their own time. While some of the developers got URA help, others saw their proposals rejected.
In comments Monday, Mr. Peduto said “in no way is there any type of a benefit that is given to somebody” in exchange for campaign donations.
“People know when they write a check to me that they’re going to support good government. And if they don’t, they find out,” Mr. Peduto said. He cited “a 20-year history of working in professional politics and government where I’ve been able to take a contribution and say no.”
“If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be in the business,” he said.
While he doesn’t know who may run against him this year, Mr. Peduto said, he intends to win re-election for a second term. Speculation has surrounded Mrs. Harris, who ran for mayor in 2013 but has not formally declared whether she will do so again.
Les Ludwig, 84, of Squirrel Hill, who has campaigned for Pittsburgh mayor several times, said he will run anew in 2017.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542. Adam Smeltz: email@example.com, 412-263-2625 or @asmeltz.
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