EDITORIAL: Bribe time again

In Pennsylvania, some suspects are more equal than others

Question of the Day

Should Congress make English the official language of the U.S.?

View results

When a public official is caught on tape taking a bribe, it’s usually only a matter of time before he can expected to be fitted in an orange jumpsuit. In one famous corruption sting that began in 1979, FBI agents pretended to be Middle Eastern sheiks handing out bribes to a United States senator, five members of the House and several members of the Philadelphia city council. With dramatic video footage, all were convicted.

Several Philadelphia politicians have not learned the bitter lesson of Abscam. Four members of the Pennslyvania legislature who represent districts in the City of Brotherly Love, and one traffic court judge, were caught accepting “things of value” in return for performing official favors. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that prosecutors collected 400 hours of audio and videotape to prove their case but Kathleen Kane, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, decided not to prosecute.

Mrs. Kane, like the four legislators and one traffic judge in the taped incident, is a Democrat. She suggests the investigation, originated by her predecessor, was “racist.” Mrs. Kane says 108 of the 113 recordings made over two years showed evidence against black officials. She insists that the investigation was “deeply flawed” because the informant who offered the bribes turned out to be a “shady” character. Most informants, as any cop could tell you, are.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, initiated the investigation three years ago as the state attorney general. He targeted a number of both Republicans and Democrats. Some were white and some were black. The Republicans walked away from the offers of cash. The Democrats did not. The Inquirer reported that a judge took a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet and the state representatives took between $1,500 and $7,650 each in return for city contracts or votes on issues like privatizing state liquor stores.

Mrs. Kane says the recordings are “the only evidence of alleged wrongdoing” and that they don’t establish the quid pro quo needed to make a bribery charge stick. Perhaps, but video can be very persuasive, and a jury isn’t likely to believe a lobbyist hands out cash to politicians without expecting something in return. Even if the bribery charges were to fail, it’s still a crime for state lawmakers not to disclose the gifts.

Prosecutors must always exercise discretion, a trait sorely lacking in many of them, but this case smells like partisanship. Mrs. Kane asked the Justice Department for a second opinion, but this was asking for an opinion from the same prosecutors who declined to prosecute the New Black Panthers, caught on videotape intimidating Philadelphia voters in 2008.

Not everyone accused of stealing gets a pass. Eric Holder’s Justice Department is hotly pursuing Bob McDonnell, the former governor of Virginia, and his wife for accepting gifts from a campaign supporter. Politicians who violate the public’s trust deserve the harsh treatment, but it must be equally applied. For the law to have any value, it must apply to Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals alike.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts