Monday, July 16, 2007

Ravenstahl Responds to Ethics Board

The Busman's Holiday has audio of the Ethics Board meeting -- as well as a short statement by Mayor Ravenstahl.

As Mayor, you cannot address matters of City business such as job growth, economic development, and payments in lieu of taxes without talking.


And you can talk without golfing -- or at least while paying your own way.

During the Invitational issues importance to the City were discussed, including my trip to Harrisburg where I lobbied for state budget appropriations relevant to arena funding, and UPMC’s ongoing partnership with us to contribute payments in lieu of taxes.

Okay, in all seriousness, this is comforting.

If the Mayor truly used the occasion to stand up for overburdened taxpayers, and to prevail upon UPMC to improve its conception of corporate responsibility, then his lapse in judgement will be forgiven.

We look forward to the big press conference concerning the new regime in non-profit PILOTs.

UPDATE: Toward the end of the podcast, Board Chair Hughes highlights a distinction between admission to a charitable event -- as an onlooker -- and participation in the spectacle of that event.

We can imagine a parallel scenario, in which a public official attends a charity auction, on the one hand -- and where the purchases of that official during said auction are underwritten, on the other.


  1. The fact that this happened to be a charitable event is a red herring. Luke didn't receive "free admission", he had to pay, just like everyone else. The case is just a simple one of who did Luke take money from in order to gain access to the event -he took money from an interested party, in turn, the money was handed over to the Lemieux Foundation so that Luke could play golf with celebrities. It's especially ridiculous that Luke is hiding behind the charity exception given that he was so secretive about what he was doing that day.

  2. Where the value of the donations goes is the "rub" (whatever Shakespeare meant by that). If I donate the $27,000 and ask my good friends Bram and Luke to join me for charity golf, then at tax time I use whatever handy dandy worksheet the Lemieux foundation gives out, subtract the value of the golf, meals and gift bag and get a $26,000 write-off on my taxes. Bram and (especially) Luke get bumpkis in value, except for playing golf with celebrities. Really even the charity exception may not apply in this case, because the Mayor got no value. Now, that this Mayor fawns over celebrities is unfortunate, and that he wants to pretend he was conducting city business while playing golf is worse, but I don’t think he has seriously violated the ethics code.

  3. Ed, your limited conception of value is frustrating to us.

    Simply to be illustrative, let's take our mayor out of the picture entirely and talk about Governor Phil.

    What if Acme Corporation, who has business before the state, secures an escort for Governor Phil?

    No money is changing hands. Phil can't write off the encounters on a tax return. He just happens to really enjoy escorts. So by your logic, Phil and the Acme Corp. committed lapses in judgement, but no ethics violations. Right?

  4. I really think it is a non issue.

  5. Are we talking legal or illegal escort services? Really, it hardly matters what *I* think, more I would be worrying about Danny Schiff. But I would prefer to be accurate with my criticisms. My point is not that the Mayor received nothing, but that someone else is getting the lion’s share of the “value” of the gift. I strongly suspect there is a way to determine the value of what the Mayor received, according to IRS rules. I would be surprised if it exceeded $1000, and not surprised if it was less than $500. I don’t quite think it is a non-issue, since it seems to be a pattern of the Mayor receiving tickets to sporting events and not calculating their cumulative value (this is what is reported). And there are other serious issues, such as missing the hearing, being evasive or down right lying about it and claiming the tournament was actually a business meeting (that’s pretty insulting to the intelligence of Pittsburghers). Further you can question the propriety of a Mayor attending an event like that that is closed to the public. But, from the standpoint of a strict value calculation of income or value from the IRS’s point of view, this is not a smoking gun.

  6. Would this be an issue if O'Conner was alive and Mayor right now? Because I know for a fact he participated in these charity golf events for Mario. I think the answer would be NO, it wouldn't be an issue. Just because certain people (the bloggers and political rivals) don't like Luke, this has become a bigger issue then it should.

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