Politics & Policy

Pa. AG Suspends Probe of Philadelphia Democrats, Calls It Racist

Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane
Democratic politicians took money, jewelry in a vote-buying sting.

When Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, took office in 2013, she halted an investigation that had attained incriminating evidence against leading Philadelphia Democrats, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report.

From 2010 to 2013, the investigation had compiled 400 hours of audio from a sting operation, including tape of for Democratic members of the city’s State House delegation, accepting money to influence their votes. The investigation began under Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican, and was led by lead prosecutor Frank G. Fina, who had previously won convictions of 23 high-ranking state legislators and aides from both parties in previous probes.#ad#

However, Kane halted the investigation upon assuming office, saying in a statement that the investigation was “deeply flawed” and “unraveled long before I was elected.” Of Kane’s main contentions with the investigation were that “there may have been a racial focus to the targets of the investigation, improper reporting, inadequate resources and inadmissible evidence.”

Kane contends that the investigation targeted members of the State General Assembly black caucus while ignoring “potentially illegal acts by white members of the General Assembly.”

In the sting operation, an undercover operative, Tyron B. Ali, made relatively small financial offers to Democrats and Republicans alike, but only Democrats accepted the payments.

Ali, a former lobbyist, had been accused of defrauding the state of $430,000 from a low-income food program but was granted favorable treatment in exchange for agreeing to wear a wire for the investigation.

Former traffic-court judge Thomasine Tynes reportedly received a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet, while four Democratic state lawmakers received monetary payments ranging from $1,500 to $7,650. Of the four state representatives who allegedly took money — Ronald Waters, Vanessa Brown, Michelle Bronlee, and Louise Bishop — Bishop denied receiving the money, Brownlee and Waters said they couldn’t remember if they had taken a payment, and Brown declined to comment.

In return for the money, the state representatives were urged to vote in particular ways.

The state of Pennsylvania does not limit the amount of money lawmakers can receive in gifts, but lawmakers must submit an annual disclosure. Tynes failed to report the bracelet she received and those who received monetary payments also failed to report the money in their annual financial disclosures, which may constitute false swearing to authorities, punishable by up to one year in prison.

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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