Nearly three years in office, Mayor Jim Kenney is proving to be a more effective horse-trader with City Council members than his predecessor. But when it comes to spreading his political largesse to his former colleagues — many of whom will face stiff reelection bids next year — some legislators have gotten more love than others.
Just ask Councilwoman Cherelle Parker.
New campaign finance filings show that Kenney’s campaign contributed $11,900 to Parker’s campaign last month. A pittance in the world of politics, that’s still the maximum contribution allowed between political action committees per election cycle under state law. More strikingly, it’s the first time Kenney has doled out such a generous sum to any member of Council.
Kenney campaign spokesperson Martin O’Rourke said the reason for the five-figure gift was simple: “She asked the campaign and we made a contribution.”
As of June, the Kenney for Philadelphia PAC boasted well over $600,000 in its coffers and proceeded to spent $171,000 of it in the most recent cycle. Even after expenses, that’s formidable ballast for a largely popular Democrat. Rumors of potential challengers— including the deep-pocketed Councilman Allan Domb — have been circulating for months now, but so far no candidates have formally announced.
Meanwhile, some councilmembers have struggled more than others to raise money in advance of the 2019 elections. Parker’s most recent filing, from June, showed just shy of $40,000.
Does the Kenney’s philanthropy extend to all members of Council? There’s no guarantee.
“If people ask, their requests are considered,” O’Rourke said.
Since 2016, Kenney’s PAC has only donated to two other councilmembers besides Parker. He made a $2,500 gift to Councilman Mark Squilla last year. He also doled out four separate contributions to Councilman Curtis Jones’ reelection committee, totaling $9,500.
It isn’t uncommon for Philly’s deep-pocketed Democratic politicians to spread money around within the party, often at annual campaign fundraisers. Political insiders say that even modest contributions are a way for pols to shore up theirs allies before an election year.
The Parker contribution was not made at a fundraiser, according to O’Rourke. The Parker campaign could not provide details about the contribution by press time.
Notably, Parker is a member of the Northwest Coalition, a group of influential African American pols in the city’s voter-rich northwest neighborhoods, which helped hoist Kenney into the mayor’s office in 2015. Parker ascended to Council that same year after five terms with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. So far, no one has launched a bid to challenge her 9th District seat.
Kenney’s generosity has indeed extended beyond Council. Only on one occasion, however, did he give the maximum contribution as he did with Parker: Kenney for Philadelphia cut a check for $11,900 to City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart insurgent campaign operation last year.
His camp also gave $10,000 to District Attorney Larry Krasner around the same time. Additional contributions have been made to Dwight Evans’ congressional campaign and various Democrat state house candidates — most recently, a $5,000 bump for Joe Hohenstein, the Democratic nominee for state representative in the 177th District.
But it is worth noting that political contributions make up a small fraction of Kenney’s campaign spending. The biggest expense? Political consultants and fundraisers.
O’Rourke is paid $7,500 a month to provide consulting services throughout the year — that’s $30,000 for his services since June, filings show.
In addition to O’Rourke, Kenney continued to pay Philadelphia NAACP president Rodney Muhammad $5,000 per month for soda tax advocacy on behalf of a Kenney-affiliated nonprofit. (Muhammad was one of several soda tax lobbyists who failed to register as lobbyists, resulting in an $8,000 ethics fine over the summer.) Kenney also paid two other political fundraising groups, DeMaria Consulting and Keystone Political Advising, a combined total of $42,650 over the last three months.
All told, the campaign spent more on consultants ($92,650) than it raised in political contributions ($89,936) in the current cycle.
Kenney’s campaign war chest nonetheless remains one of the biggest in Philly politics.