Sunday, July 15, 2007

Second look at the question of value

You know, I have to tell you, in a way I am backpedaling on the Mayor’s ethical breach in attending the Lemieux tournament. I see no logical way to see how he benefited excessively from his attendance at the charity tournament. He clearly did not pay, but he did get admittance to a private event. Whether the particular 27,000/9,000 was paid for by UPMC corporate funds or an individual’s money, the value of the donation is likely to be accounted for in tax terms as either evidence of UPMC’s corporate charity or on someone’s tax return. So the lion’s share of the value of the charity event, the tax write off, is denied to the Mayor. The Mayor got to meet celebrities (again), and was fed and got to play golf. I don’t know what the value of that is, but the Lemieux charity people could tell us, since this event is going to show up on people’s tax returns and they need to get it right. The tournament organizers almost undoubtedly have a fully prepared tax document to submit along with attendees tax returns. That’s who the ethics committee should be talking to.

I guess the city’s law department would argue that the non-donation value of the golf outing is covered by the value to the city of maintaining or enhancing the profile of the Mayor with wealthy Pittsburghers and other wealthy people. Maybe there is something to that, I would want to see a reasoned argument on it (so far there have only been a few sound bites in the media). Similarly, I wonder if the exemption for charity in the code assumes the Mayor is being “comped” into the charitable event, or precisely because the tax value of the Mayor’s admission was used by someone else. They may be history on the code, or someone could research past elected officials behavior (hint: avoid Sharpe James).

Yeah, the Mayor’s attendance at the event was kind of insulting because average Pittsburghers are not welcome there, and especially since it was on the day of the Council’s hearing on suspect police promotions. But it probably does not make it to the level of corruption (see Sharpe James), merely (once again) bad judgment. That the city or state ethics board can make something of this one event seems unlikely to me. But as a pattern of casual ethical behavior, well, someone needs to talk to Luke “Cheney” Ravenstahl, before he does implode.

5 comments:

Adam said...

I'm not sure what the mayor makes per hour, but I'd as a taxpayer rather pay that wage for him to attend meetings he's invited to (only as the result of his other failings in the office) rather than paying him to play golf and be bribed by one of the city's biggest customers/non taxpayers.

EdHeath said...

Well, the Mayor makes around ninety some thou, for what it is worth. Ravenstahl fell into a massive raise when O'Connor died. My understanding of the tournament is that he played golf with a PNC person or two and Dan Onorato the first day and then the UPMC people the second day. I really hope the Mayor wasn't fawning over the celebrities, but judging from his performance in press conferences I don't hold much hope for his skills in meetings, if he was even inclined to try to talk business while golfing. So, yeah, clearly some of his constituents would rather have seen him at the council hearing. But is it a major ethical lapse? ehhhh ....

westwardwall said...

The question I have is: What is UPMC buying from th mayor. Its very difficult to prosecute your friends and this surely can't b about a sign on the steel building. What comes to mind is UPMC's fear of loosing it's non-profit status. If that were to happen and UPMC had to pay taxes the city would be saved from Bankrupcy and in fact would be solvent. If the nonprofit laws were reviewed and reform came to the system of granting non profit status UPMC with all its divisions and profit and spending would fail any legitimate review and become a for profit corporation. The reform would have to come from the state legislature. Someone would have to introduce legislation or file against UPMC's non profit status in court. I can't think of anything UPMC would want to protect more than its status as a non profit. Why else own the mayor? PB

EdHeath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EdHeath said...

Well, PB, UPMC's non profit status is likely wrapped up in a complicated mixture of federal and state rules, applied vairously the their health care and health insurance units. So the city or even the state can't really touch UPMC tax exempt status (but it is something they want to protect, hence the recent rules on UPMC employees accepting gifts). The state does have control over the health insurance part of UPMC's business. But someone said that other cities apply a percentage to the "voluntary" contribution non-profits give to these other cities in lieu of taxes. I would bet that UPMC wants to avoid being locked into that kind of arrangement with the city, and they are trying to get in good with the Mayor. Just my opinion.