Friday, May 26, 2006

Northampton County Council: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Follow the money. That's what they tell you. If you want to know how you're government rep feels about runaway development or corporate welfare, look at where he's getting his campaign contributions. Under the influence of now convicted campaign consultant Michael Solomon, former Northampton County Exec Reibman developed a highly refined system under which thousands of dollars from county contractors and employees poured regularly into his campaign coffers. Things had become so obscene that, when he ran for exec, John Stoffa shunned these legal bribes and won, which certainly tells us how Lehigh Valley residents feel about this practice. But what about the members of Northampton County Council? Do they spurn big money from special interests, like Stoffa, or do they believe in business as usual?

I've looked at the campaign finance reports for each of our illustrious County Council members. It's a tale of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

Surprisingly, most of them are actually good. Wayne Grube, John Cusick, Ann McHale, Ron Angle, Mike Dowd and Diane Neiper all rely on their own funds, and a scattering of small contributions, mostly from individuals. Their reports make clear they owe nothing to anyone.

The Bad

Charles Dertinger wants to be your next U.S. Congressman. But if you look at his campaign finance report, you'll soon realize that he won't be your Congressman at all -- he'll instead be a union puppet. In his successful quest for a Council seat, almost all of his campaign funds came from union PACs. They gave him over $15,000! He also managed to get $500 from the King of Special Interests, Glenn Reibman.

Most of this money isn't even local. Come to think of it, neither is Charles! He himself happens to work for a union, and is based in Flushing, NY How convenient! I guess Charles can think about County business while burning fuel during four hour commutes.

Now don't get me wrong. My own sentiments are strongly pro-union. We need them. But when one candidate not only works for a union, but gets almost all of his campaign funds from them, he's obviously their slave. Hey unions, why don't you let us elect our own guys with our own money?

The Ugly

I put Lamont McClure and Anthony Branco in the "ugly" category because, even though both relied heavily on money from special interests, the voters still rejected them. They lost. Yet they both now sit on Council, thanks to back room shenanigans.

Anthony Branco didn't raise as much money as Dertinger, but most of it came from special interests. Developers Atiyeh, Tuskes and Pektor were major contributors ($2,400), and I'm sure Tony will remember that when they ask for TIF financing or to place a property in the KOZ.

Lamont McClure is the strangest of them all. In a losing campaign, he managed to pull in about $10,000 from lawyers, most of whom are big city lawyers. Unions kicked in $3,440. DA Morganelli, who employs McClure's wife, donated $1,500, and one of his detectives provided an additional $500. Reibman sweetened the pot with $1000 gathered from his pool parties, and even Grube provided $500.

This guy owes nothing to us -- remember, we rejected him. But pals like Council Prez Grube and DA Morganelli wanted their boy on Council, and that's what they got. He's not our Councilman: he belongs to unions, lawyers, the DA's office, and Grube.

Incidentally, many of these nonlocal attorneys who gave to McClure, and McClure himself, work for Mr. Baseball, Peter Angelos. Although Angelos has pretty much destroyed the Orioles, his control of Maryland's legislature is legendary. His measures are simply called "Angelos bills." He's a heavy campaign contributor. He now spreads his tentacles to Northampton County. Maybe he wants to buy the Lehigh Valley Dawgs!

The Need For Reform

County Execs and elected officials like the DA should not be permitted to donate to candidates who decide their budget. And just as the Home Rule Charter prohibits a Councilman from being employed by the County, the same argument should apply to a Councilman's spouse. Even if Morganelli didn't give McClure a dime, do you really think McClure could give an objective evaluation of the DA's budget when the DA is Mrs. McClure's boss?

In addition to the possible conflict of interest presented by accepting money from elected officials, the dangerous influence of NONLOCAL political money is being felt, especially with Dertinger and McClure. Council will have to approve 11 union contracts. How can we expect Dertinger to look at them fairly when he himself is a union puppet? And will McClure, beneficiary of all kinds of money from big city lawyers, try to steer swaption deals or bond work their way? To prevent Philly or New York special interests from deciding what happens in Northampton County, politicians should be barred from using nonlocal money to run a campaign.

The best way to minimize the influence of special interests in elections is to make them irrelevant. How do we do that? Adopt publicly funded clean elections laws. In this system, candidates are provided a flat sum by the government to run their campaign if they pledge to seek no money from private sources. This system is up and working in six states.

This proposal has not been considered in the land of midnight legislative payraises, where local write-in results are available to the press on election night, but are shrouded from the public ten days after an election, and where campaign finance reports in the hotly disputed 133rd legislative district are still not posted on the net.

Do we want reform or business as usual? Business as usual is what we'll get from Dertinger, McClure, and Branco. That's what their little publicized campaign finance reports tell us.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bernie...

Dertinger has lived in the Lehigh Valley since 1993. That is 13 years. Get over it!!! The last Democrat to get the nomination was a true carpet bager. He lived in the valley... no wait he never lived in the valley. Lets face it he had money, looks, and could talk. Candidate!!!

If you want to Categorize Dertinger as a carpet bagger every person who relocates to this area looking to make a difference in the valley and run for office can be a carpet bagger.

I was born and raised in the valley and went to college in SE part of the state. When relocating I worked in the SE because I earned more money there. So Dertinger working in NYC brings money back, lives in the community and stimulates the Lehigh Valley economy. If anything he is helping the valley by working in NYC.

Now that I have moved back here am I a carpet bagger??? I bought a house in a more Democratic Area of the city so my neighbors would share my views. Am I a carpet bagger. That won't play in this election.

Lets define carpet bagger????

Anonymous said...

Oh and one other thing...

Let McClure and his wife alone. He was appointed and that is it. Taking a county position in the DA's office should not preclude Mr. McClure from running and winning or being appointed to office.

If the DA's office gets favors from McClure or his wife gets a big boost in salary and McClure pushes for it. Investigate!!!!

Remember your buddy Ron and the other Republicans on council still have a vote and can run off to the media and foce investigations. The appearance of a conflict of interest does not make it so.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks for your comments and your strident defense of both Dertiger & McClure. They need it. In my latest post, however, I did not call New Yorker Dertinger a carpetbagger. I said that his campaign finance report is bad, and McClure's is ugly.

Let's get something straight. I'm a progressive Democrat. I'd be a frickin' Green if I thought there was even a slight chance it could gain a few seats. But when a pol wastes taxpayer money or hops in bed with special interest or creates the "appearance of a conflict of interest," I don't give a damn if he's a Democrat or Republican or Jesuit. I'll hammer him. Some people say, "My country, right or wrong." You seem to be saying, "My party, right or wrong."

Dertinger's Bad Finance Report

- Practically none of his money is local (even Dent's masssive warchest is around 75% local);
- Practically all of his money comes from one special interest - unions;
- Dertinger himself is employed by a New York union;
- Dertinger didn't even have his report acknowledged locally; it was acknowledged in Jersey;
- As a Councilman, Dertinger must approve 11 contracts with the very special interest that financed his campaign - unions.

His finance report tells us that, although he may have kept a house here since 1993, his heart and is in New York and his soul belongs to unions. He's their bitch. He doesn't represent us as a Councilman. Now the unions want their bitch to run for Congress, so he'll do so even though 17,000 Democrats thought he'd be their County Councilman.

McClure's Ugly Finance Report

Let's look at McClure's unsuccessful run for Council. He all but stated he was there to help out the DA. After his backroom appointment, he continued in that vein. And you yourself acknowledge the apparent conflict of interest.

The Home Rule Charter prohibits a Councilman from being a county employee. The reasoning behind this prohibition should also apply to spouses and immediate family members. This is ridiculous. It's a walking conflict of interest, and there's nothing apparent about it. Council should adopt an ordinance prohibiting this practice, just as they should adopt an ordinance prohibiting assistant county solicitors from being municipal solicitors.

When we look at McClure's report, we find that the DA kicked in $500, his committee kicked in $1000, his detective with a limited income somehow had $500, and DA staffers kicked in about another $1500.

I work at the courthouse and didn't realize until I looked at these reports how much money McClure got from the DA's office. In fact, I'm ashamed to say I didn't know his wife was an Assistant DA, and I know this was not among the questions posed to McClure before he was "appointed." If I did not know this, I think it's safe to conclude that several Council members were also unaware of the DA's influence. I did email my concerns to the DA, and I suspect we'll be hearing from him.

Just as Dertinger is the union's bitch, McClure is John Morganelli's bitch. He'll follow orders. Forget about the delicate balance of power between executive and legislative branches. You say Angle or the Rs can force investigations event thogh they are now outnumbered 6 to 3. Let me ask you, how the hell is that supposed to happen when the DA is the one who is supposed to be investigating?

I don't think an investigation, however, is necessary. McClure has broken no law. And it is perfectly permissible, under our archaic elections laws, for John Morganelli to give McClure $1 million if he wants. I could hear Morganelli now, saying, " I have a First Amendment right ... blah, blah, blah." But it SHOULD be illegal for a legislator to accept money from a person when he has to approve that person's budget. The First Amendment shouldn't give you the right to pour so much money into a campaign that it dilutes the voice of simple people who may not have all the money in the world. And it should also be illegal for a legislator to be married to a member of the executive branch.

Business as Usual

The King of Special Interests, of course, is the dethroned Glenn Reibman, who collected money from county contractors and employees ad nauseam. His right hand man, Michael Solomon, went to jail for bribery. Reibman had regular "pool parties" at which prospective contractors and employeesd lined up with checks. He even had a pool party during Hurrican Ivan, as people's cars floated by.

Some candidates truly believe in reform. They don't like special interests money. Take a look at Stoffa, who shunned special interests and is trying to listen to the voters - not special interests. Walk ins get to see him. And Stoffa doesn't turn them away. He reminds me of Lincoln, who always had time for ordinary citizens. Lincoln once explained, "They need so much and seek so little." Like Lincoln, Stoffa's an example to emulate, not disdain. Reibman, Dertinger and McClure seem very shallow by comparison.

For the last 20 yrs, government at the state level has been in the dark. For the past 8 yrs., government on the county level has been behind closed doors with a favored few. Reform is needed badly.

There's plenty of time to be partisan once that mess is cleaned up. Dertinger and McClure, even though they are Dems, are part of the problem.

I understand you're thinking that politically, it's smart to throw someone up against Dent. You may be right. But I think good government is far more important than good politics. Neither Dertinger nor McClure represent good government. Their campaign finance reports tell us that.

Thanks again for your intelligent observations. I do appreciate them, and I understand where you're coming from. And I've made enough mistakes in my lifetime to know I don't have all the answers. But God, I love to argue.

Anonymous said...

Bernie...

OK you did not call Dertinger a carpetbagger. I am sorry.

When raising money for a campaign though you go to people you know. Dertinger goes to unions cause he works with and in a union. They just happen to have lots of money.

McClure has a wife who works with the DA and lawyers tend to have money. If my wife worked for the DA I would make friends and hope they would like me enough to give money.

Now Branco (who I don't know much about) got money from Atiyeh. Well so did Charlie Dent.

Lets also face that Dent is in the pockets of Tom DeLay and the Republican Leadership. He votes with them enough.

So I guess the choice is do you want Dertinger who will vote a liberal agenda that supports unions, or do you want Dent who will vote with Texas and GOP special interest.

Also to set the record clear I am not a party guy good or bad. I did not believe in Joe Driscoll in 04. So much so I did not vote in the Dent/Driscoll fiasco. I voted for president and other people on the slate.

So I do tend to speak out when I feel the party is wrong I just don't think Dertinger and McClure are that bad.

At least Dertinger and McClure have not gotten money from someone who is convicted of bribery. Dent took $1000 from Duke Cunningham's PAC and has yet to say he would return it. That is way worse than anything Dertinger and McClure have ever done.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I see. Taking $1,000 from Duke Cunningham's PAC is terrible. That guy was later convicted of bribery. How about having your campaign run by a guy who is later convicted of bribery related to county contracts? How about acting as his errand boy? How about associating heavily with a "pay to play? county exec?

I make no excuses for Dent. You say these guys should be excused for letting themselves be bought out by special interests, and point to Dertinger's union contacts and McClure's wife. Well, three Council memebers are teachers. But they took very little money from the teachers' union. They owe nothing to them.

Thanks for your comments. It surprises me that you chose not to vote for Driscoll. I'd be curious to know why - was it because he was a carpetbagger, his ambivalence towards Iraq or some other reason?

Anonymous said...

I simply did not like Driscoll because he was not from the Valley.

I hear talk of moving from one area to another so you can run for office, etc, etc...

It makes me sick. Not to mention moving stinks. I love politics, but would never move for an office.

I am a firm believer that you should run in the area you live. I believe a candidate should live (not necessarily work) where he wants to run for office. I think the political theory of a person that is answerable to the people (as the US House was intended) implies that you live and know those people you respresent. I do believe that a representative like Dent does need to vote sometimes based on what he feels out best interests are. We vote for people to be our trustee, but there needs to be a balance between the trustee model (voting differently from the peoples voice because you as the representative know better) and the representative model.

I feel Driscoll could not balance that at all because he was a carpetbagger. He also had other issues, but Dent's rubber stamp with DeLay and Bush along with Driscoll's not being from the area made me just hold my vote for another day.

Greendogdem said...

Driscoll wasn't just a carpetbagger he was a tool of the state Democratic party and Dccc. He was told to move into the district to because they already had a candidate in home district