What we know and don’t know about Philly’s newest super PAC
There are a few things Philly’s newest super PAC wants us to know about them (from their website): “Our mission is to engage new audiences and bring new voices into the city’s political discussions. To increase civic participation and voting rates … Our goal is to create the opportunity for new civil servants to be elected and smart policy to win out … We are seeing real change in this city. Let’s create a council that can keep up.”
Super PACs typically operate in the world of political dark money — a world created by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision that cloaks large donors in a constitutionally protected veil of secrecy. And make no mistake about it. Philly 3.0 intends to stand as far behind that veil as possible.
When former LibCityPress writer Patrick Kerkstra asked its Executive Director Alison Perelman to disclose its donors, her response was: “As an organization it’s our policy: we do not discuss donors. We don’t want to be focused on individuals but on the collective issues.” When asked how much Philadelphia 3.0 might spend, she demurred again. “We are not talking about any of our fundraising goals, but we are hoping to be a strong voice in this election.”
When Kerkstra pushed back, Perelman’s responded, “We are not going to be focused on the labels that people ascribe to our organization, because we do feel so strongly that there is this glaring need for comprehensive and specific conversation over those issues that council has authority.”
If I were Philly 3.0, I wouldn’t want anyone focused on their individual donors or the labels ascribed to the organization either. Why? Because the guys allegedly funding Philly 3.0 are the very last folks you would attach to forward-thinking public policy in Philadelphia.
Meet the Zuritskys: Joe, the Philadelphia parking lot king and his son, Robert, the heir apparent.
A 2008 Philly Mag profile of the Zuritskys’ reads like a chapter out of a Boss Tweed novel. “Zuritsky has gotten involved in politics in recent years, backing both Mayor John F. Street and former Mayor Ed Rendell. His detractors whisper that such involvement has won him special favors in the permitting process.”
“Zuritsky shrugs it off. ‘The press will always add up two and two and somehow get five,’ he said. Moreover, he added, his political activities have, in fact, been a form of self-defense. Philadelphia parking garages have been getting hammered by the city since the early 1980s, especially when the city’s parking tax jumped from 10 percent to 20 percent of gross receipts. ‘We were a handful of businessmen talking to the wall. They didn’t know us, they didn’t care, and because parking garages are never popular, we were an easy target,’ Zuritsky recalled. He decided to get political when he realized that he simply had no City Hall contacts to whom he could turn. ‘These people have to at least recognize you so that you can talk to them,’ he said.”
More recently, in 2011, Zuritsky’s son Robert gave an impassioned plea before City Council. Was it for school funding? Pension reform? Safer streets? No, no, and no. It was for rolling back the tax on, you guessed it, parking lots.
The more light you shine on Philly 3.0, the more it looks like a super PAC for the 1 percent posing as a millennial empowerment group. You see Philly 3.0 was initially a Zuritsky-funded breakaway PAC from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce called Philly Rising. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Sources familiar with the group’s intentions said that a key reason for its formation is that the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce does not always advocate for Philadelphia’s business community.” The Inquirer expose continued, “At least two Council hopefuls [Philly 3.0] approached were quizzed on, of all things, their support for reducing the city’s parking tax, a source told us. Maybe it’s not surprising — the asphalt kings have written editorials opposing hikes to the tax and even lobbied Council to reduce the levy by 25 percent. Parkway Corp. allegedly left the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce over its wavering support for tax cuts.”
Philly 3.0’s intentions seem to be as dark as its money — as dark as the asphalt paving the parking lot kingdom.