This week, The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office caught at least four Philadelphia-area legislators taking multiple bribes ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands in cash and Tiffany jewelry. Uncovered as part of a sting operation, these bribes were given to Philadelphia Democrats in exchange for votes or contracts, including opposition to Pennsylvania’s proposed voter ID law.
These findings are the result of over 400 hours of video and audio recordings obtained over the course of a three-year investigation that started in 2010 under then-Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican. Despite this solid evidence obtained from a thorough investigation, current Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, secretly dropped the case in 2013, allowing these elected officials to get away with corruption that attacks the very heart of representative government.
Kane told the Inquirer that she was not going to prosecute the Democratic legislators who took the bribes because the investigation, she claimed, was “poorly conceived, badly managed, and tainted by racism… [and] had targeted African Americans.” Those familiar with lead prosecutor Frank G. Fina dispute such claims; indeed, Fina is described by some as the top public-corruption prosecutor in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, Fina has also been responsible for many past investigations that led to prosecutions of both Republicans and Democrats.
The lead agent in the case, Claud Thomas, is also an African-American who now works for Democratic District Attorney Seth Williams in Philadelphia. Williams criticized Attorney General Kane’s claim that Fina and Thomas had specifically targeted African-Americans in their investigation.
In fact, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the investigation targeted both Republicans and Democrats. But no Republicans took any bribes from the undercover operative, while at least four Democrats—who happen to be black—accepted bribes of up to two thousand dollars. That seems to be the only basis for Kathleen Kane’s bizarre claim that the investigation was “tainted by racism” —the fact that only black members of her own political party decided to accept bribes. The four legislators certainly delivered on their bribes, including voting against Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Philadelphia and Pennsylvania politics that this kind of bribery and corruption actually occurred. In 2010, the state attorney general prosecuted numerous members of the state legislature from both parties in a scandal known as “Bonusgate.” As Time Magazine reported, “Pennsylvania has long been known for shady politics.” Yet, Attorney General Kane is dropping the prosecution of legislators who were apparently caught taking bribes on audio recordings and videotape. What kind of message does that send to the citizens of Pennsylvania?
As former Justice Department lawyer Christian Adams points out, if the Pennsylvania attorney general is refusing to pursue this case, shouldn’t U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder step in? He seemed to have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of public corruption by state elected officials when the Justice Department indicted former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (a Republican) earlier this year for allegedly receiving illegitimate benefits in exchange for political action. Let’s see whether Holder is too busy pursuing his crusade against voter ID laws and state efforts to improve election integrity to go after these corrupt Democratic legislators in Pennsylvania.