Wednesday, August 25, 2021

When It Comes To Campaign Cash, Is Larry Krasner Above The Law?

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

For the past two years, the Real Justice PAC of San Francisco and the campaign committee for District Attorney Larry Krasner have teamed up to brazenly violate Philadelphia's campaign finance laws. 

Meanwhile, the city's Board of Ethics, which oversees the sanctity of local elections, has said and done nothing about it publicly.

The city has an annual limit of $12,600 on contributions that a political action committee can donate to a particular local candidate. But after Krasner won the May 18th Democratic primary for D.A., the Real Justice PAC bragged online about pouring $1.3 million into Krasner's reelection campaign. 

And when I asked J. Shane Creamer, the executive director of the city's Board of Ethics if he was going to do anything about it, he declined comment. 

That surprised Mark Zecca, a former senior attorney in the city's law department who has previously represented the city's Board of Ethics in litigation.

"I think he [Creamer] owes the public more than that," Zecca wrote in a email. "I don't understand why he [Creamer] can't say anything more than that."  

"The Board should report to the public on this," Zecca wrote. "Otherwise it gives the appearance that the D.A. is above the law."

But Creamer still isn't talking.

"I will not respond to Mr. Zecca's reaction to my decision to decline to comment on this matter," Creamer wrote in an email.

And neither is Krasner, who's been stonewalling questions from Big Trial for the past 24 months.

Maybe Krasner doesn't have to worry about following local election laws because he's got an inside connection.

Krasner's new chief of staff is Richard Glazer, a former chairman of the city's Board of Ethics. Glazer used to be an unpaid senior adviser to Krasner before he took over as chief of staff.

Glazer's a big Krasner fan. That's because Glazer was one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongly convicted inmates.

Since 2009, Glazer has served as executive director of the Innocence Project that has worked closely with Krasner's Conviction Integrity Unit to free some 20 convicted felons.

In 2017, the Philadelphia Bar Association honored Glazer with the Louis H. Pollak Award for his work with the Innocence Project. 

But Glazer isn't talking either. He did not respond to a Big Trial email requesting comment.

 Zecca, however, had plenty to say about what Real Justice and the Krasner campaign committee have been up to, as disclosed in a previous Big Trial story. 

"You paint a picture of close coordination between the PAC activity relating to the campaign and the campaign" itself, Zecca wrote in an email. "So if true, the actions of the PAC and the campaign would be acting in concert and attributable to each other."

Zecca listed some possible reasons for Creamer's reticence:

-- The Board of Ethics may be investigating the actions of Real Justice and the Krasner campaign committee.

-- Creamer may be treading lightly because he knows that Carlos Vega, who lost the Democratic primary to Krasner, is suing the Krasner campaign committee, Real Justice and its co-founder, Shaun King, for libel. Creamer also is aware that Vega's lawyers have charged King, Real Justice and the Krasner campaign committee with conspiracy, money laundering and political payoffs.

-- Creamer may know that the actions of Real Justice and the Krasner campaign committee are the subject of a criminal investigation. [We can only hope and pray this is true, but under the current political landscape, it seems like a long shot.]

"I suspect that he [Creamer] already has a strong opinion on it," Zecca said about what Krasner and Real Justice have been doing with campaign contributions. But, as I mentioned previously, Creamer isn't talking. 

Jessica Brand, a spokesperson for the Krasner campaign, has previously told The Daily Beast that “The arrangement between Real Justice PAC and the Krasner campaign was and is a fee-for-service relationship, as regularly occurs in campaign work between campaigns and consultants."

Brand did not respond to a request for comment from Big Trial. 

Anyone besides me notice a pattern here among all of these ethical paragons of virtue and champions of criminal justice reform? As in they all exist on a higher moral plane than the rest of us, and as such, they are above being questioned by mere mortals?

The implication of Brand's comments was that as a campaign consultant, Real Justice doesn't have to obey the Board of Ethics' limit on annual contributions from a PAC.

But Brand's revisionist history ignores the fact that from 2017 until 2020, Real Justice operated in Philadelphia as a PAC that raised money from donors and subsequently made contributions to Krasner's campaign committee.

And that in 2019, Real Justice and the Krasner campaign had to pay fines and forfeitures levied by the very same Board of Ethics totaling $23,000 for not following the city's limit on annual contributions from a PAC.

Five years in, can Real Justice and the Krasner campaign redefine their relationship so that they are no longer bound by the city's campaign finance laws?

Did Glazer and Creamer, who used to work for Glazer, strike some sort of deal or arrange some sort of special dispensation from the Board of Ethics that gets the Krasner campaign and Real Justice off the hook?

That's the big question that both Glazer and Creamer are refusing to answer.

The Philadelphia's Board of Ethics has posted its regulations online regarding Campaign Finance. And those regulations have a lot to say about political campaigns that coordinate with contributors.

According to those regulations, "an expenditure is coordinated with a candidate’s campaign if it is made in cooperation" with the candidate's campaign committee. So that would make "any expenditure that advocates or influences the nomination or election of a candidate that is coordinated with that candidate’s campaign" an "in-kind contribution" that would fall under the city's limit on annual contributions from a PAC.

This year, before the May 18th Democratic primary for D.A., the Real Justice PAC bankrolled Krasner in two new ways.

In February, the Real Justice PAC began advertising online to "Help Re-Elect Larry Krasner And Stand with Us For Transformational Justice." The ads seeking donations all the way up to $1,000 and more stated that "Your contribution will be split evenly between Real Justice PAC - Unlimited and Larry Krasner."

Then, in April and May, Real Justice went online to solicit donations to benefit the Krasner campaign, but allowed its donors to make contributions directly to Krasner's campaign, instead of first running that money through the PAC.

During the last days of the campaign, Shaun King exulted on Twitter. "We've raised nearly $500,000," he told his three million followers, many of whom were pledging $5 a month to help Krasner win reelection as D.A.

After Krasner won the Democratic primary for D.A., Real Justice went on Twitter to brag that it had raised a total of $1.3 million for Krasner's reelection campaign from some 22,433 donors.

But the way Zecca sees it, all that money should be subject to Philadelphia's campaign finance laws.

"The way the PAC raised funds by saying that it, as a PAC, was soliciting donations for the PAC and splitting those donations with the campaign, makes the PAC come under the limits as a PAC," Zecca said.

 Real Justice "was raising funds as a PAC and not merely acting as a campaign consultant," Zecca said.

"Similarly, when the fundraising on the PAC site included a link to donate to Krasner, that would be using the PAC to raise funds for Krasner and it should come under the PAC limits," Zecca said.

"Also, if the PAC was providing staff for Krasner that was paid by the PAC, then that would be considered an in kind contribution to the campaign and counted against the PAC limits," Zecca said.

For example, Krasner had a full-time campaign manager, Brandon Evans, but Krasner didn't have to pay Evans a cent because Real Justice paid Evans more than $100,000.

Krasner also employed Jessica Brand as his campaign spokesperson, but, according to campaign finance reports, she has only cost the Krasner campaign this year a total of $21,000. Perhaps her rates are so low because Real Justice this year paid Wren Collective, a "strategic advising firm" headed by Brand, $46,000. 

Real Justice also paid the Grassroots Law Project, which operates out of the same San Francisco office building as Real Justice, and also worked on the Krasner campaign, a total of $100,484 this year for "payroll" expenses.

This year, the Real Justice PAC also paid The Social Practice LLC, another outfit that works out of the same San Francisco office building as Real Justice and also supports Larry Krasner, $56,000 for "campaign consulting."

Another problem, as Zecca saw it, was that Real Justice paid a total of $18,000 to the PACS of three local elected officials who endorsed Krasner for reelection, including City Council members Maria Quinones Sanchez and Jamie Gauthier, and state Rep. Joanna McClinton.

"As far as donations to other officials in Philly by the PAC, if the donations were directed by the Krasner campaign, which you seem to imply that they were, then those donations should also be considered PAC contributions to the Krasner campaign that would put it way over the limit," Zecca said.

But when it comes to following the law, Larry Krasner and Real Justice clearly are acting as though they believe that the city's campaign finance laws no longer apply to them. 

And that they've got some special inside deal worked out with the Board of Ethics.

The way Shane Creamer is behaving, Krasner and his favorite PAC may have it right.

When it comes to raking in more than a million dollars in campaign cash over and above the city's legal limits, the Krasner campaign and the Real Justice PAC may indeed be above the law.

3 comments

  1. Ralph,You are etched in stone alone in the Mount Rushmore of Philly Journalism!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ralph, your articles continue to present a city administration and leadership that has totally abandoned the principles of accountability, oversight and transparency.

    Will someone please tell the citizens of Philadelphia, the town where our nation and its principles were born, where are our ethics/integrity leaders and professionals are hiding (and abdicating their duties and responsibilities) and what are they doing about all of these genuine, egregious and documented instances of unethical, unprofessional and in some instances, criminal behavior and conduct.

    (1) Chief Integrity Officer of the City of Philadelphia:

    Sarah Stevenson, ESQUIRE, sarah.stevenson@phila.gov

    (2) Inspector General of the City of Philadelphia:

    Alexander DeSantis,ESQUIRE alexander.desantis@phila.gov

    (3) Board of Ethics, Executive Director

    Shane Creamer, ESQUIRE shane.creamer@phila.gov

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (retired), PPD

    ReplyDelete
  3. Let's not forget Krasner's former Chief of Staff Arun and the missing grant money that Jerry Rocks looked the other way on. Arun quietly resigned and went away....

    ReplyDelete

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