PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane tried to clear the boards Monday, holding a press conference in which she said that Philly Democratic lawmakers who had been targeted in a sting operation had probably committed crimes — but reiterating that the investigation was too flawed to proceed with prosecution. That won’t be the end of the story.
The controversy began Sunday with a Philadelphia Inquirer story detailing how Kane had abandoned the sting operation, in which those lawmakers were heard on tape accepting large cash gifts that were never officially reported on state ethics forms. On Monday, the Committee of Seventy called for a new probe in the case.
The Committee of Seventy urged the Pennsylvania General Assembly Monday to create an independent counsel to conduct “a fair and non-partisan” investigation into a dismissed three-year sting operation that allegedly captured on tape four state Representatives and a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge taking money from an undercover informant in exchange for votes.
“This is a highly unusual matter where traditional investigative authorities who might review the integrity of the sting operation and its dismissal – both of which are under attack – are compromised,” Committee of Seventy President and CEO Zack Stalberg said in a statement. “There are also extremely disturbing allegations that demand an independent, non-partisan investigation to determine if any laws were violated. The public must be assured that a full and fair review has been conducted by someone without any personal or political interest in the outcome.”
The Patriot-News reports the story is reverberating throughout Harrisburg, forcing a response from House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody:
“If the news report accurately portrayed how this investigation was conducted, I’m concerned by the apparent targeting of a select group of legislators over an extended period.
“It saddens me to read about my friends and colleagues in this way. They were elected to represent their districts in state government and they have been doing that job well.
“The allegations reported in the article are troubling. If it’s true that any legislators accepted gifts without reporting them, they should correct that reporting mistake.”
Newsworks points out that most of the lawmakers involved in the scandal have safe seats:
Three Philadelphia lawmakers who were targets in a undercover investigation are running unopposed in the May 20 Democratic primary.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday that four Democrats in Philadelphia's state House delegation — Ronald Waters, Vanessa Brown, Louise Bishop and Michelle Brownlee — allegedly accepted cash or money orders from "little-known lobbyist" Tyron Ali while he was wearing a wire for state prosecutors, according to newspaper sources. The legislators reportedly failed to disclose the payments as required by law.
Brown is the only ensnared lawmaker who is facing a primary challenger. Democrats Isaac Patterson and Wanda Logan are both running against her.
And PennLive's John Micek points out that Kane hasn't traditionally been shy about prosecuting Democrats:
Arrests made last year in the Pennsylvania Turnpike ‘Pay for Play’ scandal involved a former ally of ex-Gov. Ed Rendell and the former top Democrat in the state Senate — Robert J. Mellow of Lackawanna County.
And last week, Kane charged state Sen. LeAnna Washington, a Philadelphia Democrat, with allegedly using her taxpayer-funded staff to perform political work while they were on the clock.
“It turns my stomach,” Kane said of public corruption and its corrosive effect on the public’s confidence in their elected officials.