Philadelphia City Council Week, Part 4 (of 4): Selling Inside Information?

Some years ago some politicians in Washington found themselves on the receiving end of some serious tsk-tsking when they started holding breakfast fund-raising events at which they advertised providing extra insight into the issues before them in Congress – extra insight on their jobs to people who ponied up large campaign contributions in exchange for their Pop Tarts and Froot Loops. More than one critic pointed out that the people those elected officials represented, not just those with big checkbooks, were entitled to such insight.

The Washington Post ran into a similar problem in 2009 when it promoted events at which, for a fee of $25,000, “sponsors” would meet with members of Congress, administration officials, business leaders, think-tank wonks, and association heads, hosted by Post leaders and reporters. Critics wailed over the obvious ethical lapse and the Post canceled its money-making scheme.

So it became understood that you just don’t do that kind of thing.

But the memo explaining that apparently never reached Philadelphia, where first-term city council member Cherelle Parker invited people to spend $500 or $1000 to sit down with her over Eggos and oatmeal the morning that the mayor officially presented his proposed fiscal year 2017 budget to city council – a budget he had already briefed council members about.

Parker denied that she put up for sale to those with enough cash a sneak peek and her special perspective as a member of council, of course. Instead, she explained that she was trying to start a dialogue – whatever that means. Even in Philadelphia’s city hall, where almost nothing is considered unethical, people were asking “What the hell?”

It’s legal but it’s sleazy and wrong. She should be having this dialogue with her constituents, not with people who can afford to spend $500 or $1000 for Cocoa Krispies and juice boxes.

Parker may be new to Philadelphia’s city council but she’s already proving to be a real achiever. Less than two months into her first term and she’s already demonstrating a questionable grasp of right and wrong.

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