by Jay A. McCalla
For political junkies, this is a season of titillating ups and downs where a U.S. Congressman shuffled off to prison, the former District Attorney sits in a holding cell and now – wait for it – the almost mythologically powerful uber pol Bob Brady is involved in a splashy little scandal.
As Philly scandals go, this one is pretty juicy, involving payoffs, deception, power and big names like Brady and former Mayor Wilson Goode. Headlines and social media posts have swollen with indignation at yet another political embarrassment and demands that Brady resign his various posts of power.
At its core, the matter is about Brady paying a challenger to get out of the campaign and the lengths to which all parties went to conceal those payments.
Judge Jimmie Moore, Brady’s 2014 challenger, had the proverbial “snowball’s chance in hell” of beating a 30-year party chair and venerated congressperson. Few knew his name and, at the end of his race, recorded less than $4,000 in his campaign fund. Broke and darned near anonymous, there was no conceivable way to overcome Brady’s war chest which approached $800,000.
Moore’s campaign was an ill-conceived, sparsely funded basket case that was doomed to end in ignominy, but Bob Brady belongs to the George Schwartz (the late and legendary President of City Council) School of Politics where you never send a challenger away empty handed. Everything ends in peace.
I recall the late Councilperson Joseph E. Coleman (for whom I once worked) challenging the impregnable George Schwartz (Brady’s mentor) for reelection as council president.
Predictably, Coleman lost. But, Schwartz made him a gift of the chairmanship of the very powerful Rules Committee. Everything ends in peace.
So, I don’t believe Brady was acting to corrupt an election by depriving the voters of a viable option. Rather, it seems he was trying to help a sure loser save face. His other option was to mow him down on Election Day, which he was poised to do.
But things get dicey when this oafish coven of pols conspire to conceal the $90,000 payment intended to ease Moore out of the race. It would have been simple and sufficiently transparent to retain Moore as a political consultant – with a light workload – and pay him $90,000. Or, a loan could have been made that would never be collected. Either could have been publicly reported without the raising of an eyebrow, making the entire transaction kosher from A-Z.
Instead, this bevy of boneheads apparently conspired and legally created a corporation for the sole purpose of channeling the $90,000, and used consultants to create fake invoices that would be paid, one after another, until they totaled $90,000. Thus, a robust and detailed paper trail had been created documenting efforts to conceal the payments.
We know all of these things because an aide to Judge Moore has plead guilty to federal charges of filing a false report with the Federal Election Commission, detailing her role in the creation of the corporation and processing of bogus invoices.
It’s reasonable to assume this deft and accommodating aide was following instructions from her employer that grew out of an agreement with the Brady camp. Proving this as fact is the challenge of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Normally, an incomplete filing could be amended, or, in the worst case, result in a fine. The FBI’s involvement in a matter many see as business as usual may signal the federal government’s intensification of efforts to combat local corruption.
While generally succeeding when they go after a local pol, they conspicuously flopped in their prosecution of State Sen Larry Farnese for an $6,000 payment to a committeeperson. The jury was unwilling to convict for what they saw as unexceptional political behavior.
The feds have seriously raised the ante by allowing the public to know they believe Brady tried to corrupt the recollection of former Mayor Wilson Goode, who played a role in easing Moore out.
While the headlines blast Brady for conduct he won’t discuss, it may well be the feds have overreached in this matter.
Since Richard Nixon and Watergate, a much-quoted line by political reporters is “It ain’t the crime, it’s the cover-up.” It seems our local Machiavellis have forgotten that.
Jay A. McCalla is a former deputy managing director and chief of staff for Philadelphia City Council. He does political commentary on WURD900AM and contributes to Philadelphia Magazine. He can be followed and reached on Twitter @jayamccalla1.