By Amaris Elliott-Engel
Of the Legal Staff
Campaign-expense reimbursements do not have to be reported as income when candidates file a statement of financial interests in order to qualify for the ballot, a Commonwealth Court panel wrote in an opinion issued Wednesday.
The panel -- composed of President Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter and Judges Doris A. Smith-Ribner and Johnny J. Butler -- said that in an opinion issued to supporting reversal of Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Allan L. Tereshko's decision to remove Seth Williams from the Philadelphia district attorney ballot. Tereshko had found Williams failed to report $10,000 in campaign-reimbursed expenses as part of his financial interests.
Smith-Ribner, writing for the panel in In re Nominating Petition of R. Seth Williams, said that while there is grammatical ambiguity in the language of the state Ethics Act over what must be reported as income, that the ambiguity must be decided in Williams' favor. Income under Section 1102 of the Ethics ACT is defined "'any money or thing of value received or to be received as a claim on future services or in recognition of services rendered in the past.'"
All of the things of value enumerated in Section 1102 "represent an increase of assets through direct payment of wages, receipts of interest, dividends and so forth," Smith-Ribner said, so reimbursement from paying campaign-related expenses out of Williams' own resources is not a net increase of assets.
Tereshko concluded any omission of a source of income made Williams' statement fatally defective and Williams ineligible for the ballot. But without the objectors alleging in their trial-court level petition that Williams kept out the reimbursements because of bad faith, Williams' petition was not fatally defective, Smith-Ribner said.
In a footnote, the court addressed the claim by the objectors to Williams' nominating petition, represented by counsel paid for by district attorney contender Dan McCaffery, that Williams had $4,000 in unaccounted-for payments. Smith-Ribner wrote the objectors said Williams could only show $5,290 that he'd spent on his campaign from his Citizens' Bank Account, so that Williams had $4,000 in unaccounted-for payments.
But the judge noted Williams' argument that there is $10,000 of itemized expenditures in Williams' campaign finance report. "There is no missing $4,000," the court said.