Councilor Darlene Harris Refuses To Report Finances To The City — Again

Mar 1, 2019

Friday was the first day for political candidates in the city of Pittsburgh to begin filing monthly campaign-finance reports before the May primary. But one officeholder has made clear she won't comply. 

Darlene Harris, who is running for re-election in City Council District 1, sent a letter advising the city's Ethics Hearing Board Friday that she will not be filing the city reports. 

"Darlene Harris is being asked to comply with an ordinance that in our opinion is illegal," said her attorney, Jim Burn.

Harris will continue to comply with the financial-disclosure schedule outlined under state law, he said. Under the state timetable, Harris and other local candidates must file financial reports with the county's election office on May 10, less than two weeks before the May 21 primary election. 

Backed by then-councilman and now Mayor Bill Peduto, the city's campaign-finance law imposed a more rigorous schedule, in a bid to provide voters with earlier notice about who was funding candidates.  But Burn cited the legal concept of "pre-emption," which holds that if the state government enacts a law, local governments are barred from trying to supplant it with rules of their own.

Burn likened the campaign-finance rules to other areas -- including gun control -- where Peduto and other officials have challenged limits on local authority. Such measures have prompted court battles, and the threat of more legal fights in the future.

"Mr. Peduto has, unfortunately, earned a reputation for attempting to overreach in a variety of areas and this is no exception," Burn said. 

Harris has challenged the city's reporting requirement before. As a mayoral candidate in 2017, she similarly refused to report her finances to the city. That prompted a legal fight with the Ethics Hearing Board that continued past the election itself. 

Under the city ordinance, candidates can be fined up to $50 a day for late filing. But on Friday Burn said Harris had not paid any fines from the 2017 campaign. 

At least three other candidates are challenging her re-election bid this year. Harris began 2019 with $20,394.47 in her campaign's account, according to a financial report she filed with the state.