The corruption among elected Democratic officials in the Commonwealth keeps growing. Yesterday Reading City Council President Francis Acosta pled guilty to conspiracy to accept a bribe. Today Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is expected to face charges.
Two of Kane’s biggest personal faults are coming back to haunt her: her vindictiveness and her inability to tell the truth. She will be accused of leaking grand jury testimony in order to damage the reputation of someone she disliked and then lying about it under oath. Kane lies about everything and her penchant to get back at those she dislikes has turned her office into a disaster area.
In Reading an FBI a few weeks ago led to the first domino falling in Acosta. A man who seemingly came out of nowhere to get a seat on City Council then get elected as Council President, he agreed to try and repeal an ethics law designed to restrict corruption. The campaign finance caps prohibited anyone receiving no bid city contracts from contributing more than a set amount to a campaign. Mayor Vaughn Spencer (obviously “elected official #1 in the indictment) faced a tough re-election campaign due to a failed first term and needed to have the ethics law repealed. According to Acosta’s plea agreement he agreed to contribute $1800 to “elected official # 2” if Francis would repeal the ethics law. He introduced a resolution to do just that but Council members with integrity successfully fought the action.
It appears that Mayor Vaughn Spencer will soon join Acosta in federal prison. He accepted $84,000 from four persons who were limited by that law in what they could contribute to his campaign. The Mayor routinely violated laws and ordinances during his term leading to constant battles with Council. The legal fees from those fights amounted to more than $1 million for a cash strapped city unable to provide basic services. He and Acosta are both cronies of State Representative Thomas Caltagirone who has run the Berks County Democratic Committee from behind the curtain for years. One of his staffers ran Acosta’s unsuccessful campaign for Mayor four years ago. He and Spencer go way back.
The common denominator in the corruption in Reading and Allentown goes to consultant Mike Fleck. This seems to have begun with the investigation of former Treasurer Rob McCord who pled guilty earlier in the year. Fleck was his consultant in his failed campaign for Governor following Mayor Ed Pawlowski’s withdrawal from the race. The Allentown City Hall offices were raided recently by the FBI and it has been reported that Fleck wore a wire against both Mayors before disappearing.
I’ve known Fleck since he appeared on the scene running various Democratic campaigns. No campaign he ran was legal and above board. I even warned people running against his candidates to expect shenanigans. There always were. It’s no wonder that someone who had no regard for election laws would also violate other laws. In the cases of McCord, Pawlowski and Spencer, this just goes to prove the old adage that when you sleep with stray dogs you get fleas.
When we combine these corruption scandals with the recent indictment of Congressman Chaka Fattah Pennsylvania Democrats have much work to do to clean up their act. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party even hired Fleck’s consulting business for a time before severing the relationship.
Consultants are big business in politics. They are paid well to manage and strategize campaigns for candidates. A bad consultant, and they are legion, can do irreparable harm as Fleck has. Shortly after the FBI raids in Allentown he dissolved his business and fled. Acosta’s fall is simply the second domino to fall (after McCord) in what appears to be a succession of Democratic Mayors heading to prison.