After 3-year ethics investigation, Rep. Brian Sims vindicated — despite violations

The prominent LGBTQ advocate and lawmaker called the inquiry a “political attack.”

Pa. Rep. Brian Sims

Pa. Rep. Brian Sims

Flickr / Philadelphia City Council
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A state ethics probe investigating Pa. Rep. Brian Sims’ travel fees and speaking gigs has come to a close after nearly three years.

The verdict?

Three technical violations of the Pennsylvania Ethics Act for failing to properly disclose all of his outside earnings, as required for government officials by law.

The fine? A modest $750. The takeaway? Vindication, largely.

In a judgment issued Tuesday, the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission cleared the four-term lawmaker of 2 of 5 allegations facing him — the heftier ones.

The first dismissed ethical charge was that Sims used his taxpayer-funded office to help coordinate side work as a prominent speaker on LGBT issues. The Ethics Board also ruled that Sims had not accepted “honorarium,” a type of payment that legislators are barred from collecting.

“While this process has been harmful to me and my family, I never had any doubt that the ethics commission would agree completely that my actions were ethical and appropriate,” Sims told Billy Penn an emailed statement.

The first openly gay state legislator in Pennsylvania who represents Philly’s 182nd Pa. House District, Sims is a nationally recognized figure for LGBTQ advocacy.

He’s a regularly booked speaker and lecturer, collecting more than $42,000 in speaking fees between his election in 2012 and the launch of the ethics probe in 2017.

Sims has maintained that his speaking fees hewed to state ethics guidelines, and that he was booked as a prominent LGBTQ advocate, not as an elected lawmaker — though, as City & State PA reported in 2016, his appearances often prominently featured his official title.

The Ethics Commission agreed the fees Sims got were “nonpublic occupational or professional in nature,” according to the ruling.

Sims was dinged by the board for failing to properly disclose two sources of income — Amherst College and Campus Pride, Inc. — on his 2013 and 2015 financial disclosure statements. Elected officials must disclose all their direct income sources to the state each year.

The other violation stemmed from Sims failing to note his board membership role with Campus Pride.

Each violation comes with a $250 fine each, which Sims must pay within 30 days. Sims emphasized these were “technical errors” rather than “ethical omissions” and that he’s made the proper fixes.

News reports examining Sims’ outside employment years ago had already led the lawmaker to revise some of his filings. The revisions included thousands of dollars worth of previously unreported travel reimbursements for high-profile trips to Africa and Israel.

Ethics investigations are generally under tight seal until their resolution, but the probe against Sims was leaked to the Philadelphia Gay News in 2017.

The politician claimed it was a hit job orchestrated by an unnamed political enemy. (Coincidentally, Sims learned about the ethics probe while at a speaking gig.)

“We knew from the beginning that this confidential complaint was filed, and leaked, by a political opponent and an aggressive attack on my identity as an LGBTQ person in this work,” Sims said in a statement. “We’ve also always known that my Equality work was well-supported by the state’s ethics rules.”

Sims faces a challenger, Democratic party committeeperson Marisa Shaaban, in the upcoming April 28 primary.

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