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Summer may be here but there’s no slowing down of activities among members of the RAFC Club in Philadelphia.
RAFC stands for Rules Are For Chumps, the unofficial motto of various public officials who by word and deed express their contempt for established rules. Why? Because rules are for other people to follow, not them. They get special consideration because… well, why should they be chumps?
Take Traffic Court, please.
The trial of Traffic Court judges, now underway in federal court, draws a picture of an institution where RAFC members were royally treated.
At times, you’d think they had two hallways in the court building on Spring Garden Street: one with a big sign that read Connected Here and the other Chumps Here.
The beauty of the court was that it was a wholesale operation. Thousands headed for those two hallways each year, sorted into one category or another.
RAFC members walked out happy.
Another example comes this week courtesy of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Johnson set up a nonprofit organization called Peace Not Guns in 2009 to espouse the end of youth homicides in the city.
As Carla Robinson reported on this site, one problem with Johnson’s nonprofit is that it wasn’t a nonprofit. Its website said that it was a 501 (c) 3, the IRS designation for a not-for-profit organization.
But, Peace Not Guns never bothered with the paperwork needed. As a result, it was raising money—and telling people their donations were tax deductible when they, in fact, weren’t.
The site also listed a variety of activities, such as mentoring and outreach to youth, which it also never did. (The site was taken down after Robinson’s story ran.)
In his defense, the Councilman said that Peace Not Guns wasn’t an organization, it was more of a concept.
To put it another way, it wasn’t real. It was made up.
By the way, how much money the group raised or spent is unknown because the group, which never got the requisite 501 (c) 3, never filed an IRS form 990 either. The 990 is the form nonprofits use to report income and expenses.
The IRS frowns upon groups that claim to be nonprofit when they are not and which collect and spend money without reporting it to the government.
In Johnson’s defense, he said he sort of never got around to filling out the forms needed to obtain nonprofit status.
If I had used that as an excuse for not doing my homework, “I sort of never got around to it, sister,” I would have been cuffed on the ear.
Of course, Johnson could have followed the rules and filed, but you know what they say: RAFC.
Speaking of chumps, consider the high-powered board of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation, also known as Visit Philadelphia, which promotes the region to draw tourists to our fair city. Most of the group’s money comes from a local tax on hotel rooms.
As Julia Bergman reported on this site, nestled deep in the group’s 990 reports was an untoward incident involving its chief financial officer. Apparently, according to the language in the report, a “disqualified person” made “excess benefit transactions.” You have to wade through several more euphemisms before discovering that the CFO pilfered $210,000 over a period of five years in, again to quote the form, “unauthorized expenditures.”
In other words, she took money that wasn’t hers and she got caught.
Did the management and the board do the right thing, pick up the phone and call the district attorney’s office? No. You’ve got to remember RAFC.
The form states the money was reimbursed. All parties involved signed a confidentiality agreement, and no one will talk about it. No harm, no foul apparently.
Had this been a department store clerk, a croupier at a casino, the bookkeeper at a law firm, the odds are the issue would have been reported to authorities, the person prosecuted and, if found guilty, he or she would have had to make restitution as part of the penalty.
However, CFO Joyce Levitt obviously had friends in high places—i.e. the management and board of the GPTMC—who wanted to spare themselves the embarrassment of being snookered out of so much money over such a long period of time.
Naturally, this RAFC behavior has a corrosive effect. It leaves the rest of us with the distinct impression that the system is rigged, that political or personal connections rule, and that we—shorn of these connections—are being taken for chumps.
We pay, they don’t. We follow the rules, they don’t. We are held accountable, they are not. Nice work if you can get it.
Note: This is my final column for AxisPhilly. The site is closing down as of June 14. For details see this announcement.