By Lowman S. Henry
Bribery, mail fraud, racketeering, criminal conspiracy, official repression, conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering, bank fraud, wire fraud, obstructing the administration of law - these are just some of the charges filed against Pennsylvania Democratic elected officials in recent days. It is clear the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania has a corruption problem. It is big. It is deep. And it is going to get worse before it gets better.
Allegations of corruption extend from the national level, with the New York Post reporting presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton is the target of a federal criminal investigation; to the state level where Attorney General Kathleen Kane has now been indicted on criminal charges; to the local level where officials in Reading and Allentown are ensnared in an investigation which has already resulted in one guilty plea.
The Democrats' cauldron of corruption boiled over in recent days with the indictment of Philadelphia congressman Chaka Fattah on a variety of federal charges, the long expected Kane indictment, a guilty plea entered by the President of the Reading City Council, all of this amid reports the Democratic State Committee belatedly cut ties with a political consultant who is a central figure in the Allentown/Reading investigation.
Although details remain sketchy, it would appear the federal investigation into corruption in Allentown and Reading are tied to the case against former state treasurer Rob McCord who stepped down earlier this year and plead guilty to shaking down treasury vendors for campaign contributions. Rumors continue to circulate in Harrisburg others may become snared in that trap as well.
Unlike past incidents of corruption, like Bonusgate and Computergate which resulted in the convictions of both Republicans and Democrats, the current tidal wave of wrong-doing is exclusively a Democratic affair. With Governor Tom Wolf engaged in a budget stand-off, and statewide elections for a seat in the U.S. Senate and three constitutional offices on the ballot next year, Democrats face electoral Armageddon.
The immediate policy impact is on the state budget process where Wolf and legislative Republicans are at loggerheads weeks after the constitutional deadline for having a new spending plan in place. The governor is fighting for a historic increase in both taxes and spending; the GOP refuses to comply. Unlike past budget battles, the current stalemate has attracted little public attention and thus no pressure on either side to cave.
Governor Wolf already has the tough sale of building support to raise taxes on virtually every Pennsylvanian. But, with his party mired in wave after wave of corruption, voters will be even less willing to entrust him with more of their tax dollars. Although the indictments do not involve either Wolf or his administration, they cast all Democrats in a negative light giving Republicans another advantage in the budget stand-off.
As 2016 approaches the pervasive corruption in the Democratic Party will give Republicans a ready-made issue. The position of Attorney General is on the ballot next year and the longer Kathleen Kane clings to power the greater becomes the GOP's chances of reclaiming an office it has traditionally held. Even though the Democratic nominee is likely going to be someone other than Kane, he or she will be handicapped by Kane's corruption. State Treasurer is also on the ballot in 2016, with Rob McCord having left office in disgrace the advantage again will tilt to the eventual Republican nominee.
All of this, of course, will be affected by the national political climate. Republicans will have to be competitive in Pennsylvania at the Presidential level for "row office" candidates to have a chance. At this early stage, with all the controversy swirling around Hillary Clinton and a 17-person Republican primary, it is difficult to forecast what that dynamic might be next Fall.
This much is certain: Pennsylvania Democrats have the most serious and wide-ranging corruption problem since the days of the Milton Shapp Administration back in the 1970s. And that gave rise to the governorship of Dick Thornburgh and Republican governance in Harrisburg. If the current drumbeat of corruption continues history may be about to repeat itself.
Lowman S. Henry is chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research in Harrisburg and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org)