By Austin Nolen
It’s been a rough few days for former mayor Michael Nutter. On Tuesday, the independently-elected Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz alleged that a subordinate of Nutter’s, City Representative Desiree Peterkin Bell, had operated a “slush fund” after leaving city government – and that some of that money funded Nutter’s own ambitions.
Nutter, who is reportedly in consideration for Secretary of Transportation or Housing and Urban Development in a Clinton administration, responded in typical Nutter fashion by calling Butkovitz “a liar, a snake and a hypocrite” and “a sad and sick person” “releasing… slanderous, libelous and vicious bile from his mouth.”
This isn’t the first time questions have been raised about Nutter’s finances. Last year, we ran a story on how Nutter’s election campaign committee used donated funds. Much of the committee’s spending was on expensive meals – including $975.23 spent on the same trip to Rome for which Peterkin Bell’s fund spent $51,295.
As we wrote that story, Nutter’s campaign committee hired attorney Susan L. Burke just to handle our requests for his campaign records, records required by law to be public. We thought now would be a good time to find out just how much he spent trying to keep the public from seeing the details of his election spending.
According to Nutter’s 2015 annual campaign finance filing, his committee paid $5,000 to Burke on February 18th, 2015. The day before, The Declaration had informed the Philadelphia Elections Board that the committee was ignoring its legal obligations to disclose records. Burke contacted us shortly thereafter, on March 1st, to inform us that she had been retained by Nutter’s campaign.
The records we requested were eventually disclosed, although Burke claimed the disclosure was purely voluntary. Philadelphia elections chief Tim Dowling disagreed, writing Burke to that
“[w]here an attorney may see things as grey areas, I see things as black and white. I understand your stated position on behalf of your client, however, the statute is pretty clear… When a candidate’s campaign committee uses a credit card to make numerous expenditures, and then uses one check from the campaign committee to expend funds to pay for those items, this mitigates the strength of the Election Code’s intent, which is transparency, and convinces individuals, that are, as you stated, public-minded, to make these requests.”
In a final twist, Burke may not have even been allowed to advise Nutter on Pennsylvania law at the time. The Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board, which oversees attorneys in the state, listed her as “retired” in 2015, though she is an active attorney in other states. According to the Disciplinary Board, attorneys listed as retired cannot practice law in Pennsylvania.