Monday, September 04, 2006

Lehigh County Officials & Their Slush Funds


Thanks to some terrific reporting by the Morning Call, we've learned that Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski both very recently maintained slush funds for corporate contributions. Although ostensibly set up to defray inaugural and transition expenses, they were still raking in contributions in June. Accounts weren't closed until reporters started snooping around.

Pols were able to write checks to themselves for nice little perks. Cunningham's chief of staff wrote himself a check for $300 in June for pin money at a convention. What the hell does that have to do with Cunningham's inaguration or transition?

What these pols did is highly questionable. Maintaining a secret fund to funnel corporate contributions long after an inauguration is very likely an attempt either to evade campaign finance laws or grab creature comforts not available to the public at large. It certainly does not pass the smell test.

Elmer Gates, a local gazillionaire who owns banks and likes to have his way with local pols, insists that the $1,000 he gave to Cunningham has absolutely nothing to do with the $400,000 that Lehigh County deposited with his bank. He just wants "good government." Hmm, I wonder what Elmer considers bad government.

When asked why he didn't set up a similar fund, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa told a reporter he wanted to "stay clean." I wish some of our other local pols were as hygenic.

25 comments:

LVDem said...

Yeah, I'm not so thrilled on those accounts. I'm glad they were closed down but would have been happier if they were gutted by June when it was clear that it was time to get down to governing. I'm especially surprised at how big Pawlowski's was.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, could you do us all a favor and take down Angle's picture? It's scaring my dog

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDEm, Up until this point, these guys have been very impressive. I'm disappointed that, in their rush to grab some quick dough, they did not stop to consider how this would look if it hit the papers.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Anon 7:51, I'd take down Anngle's picture but it's the only one that's uglier than mine. Since his pic makes mine look good, it stays.

Anonymous said...

Two guys who appeared to be starting off in the right direction can now be labeled self serving political fools. How disappointing. I see little difference between keeping a slush fund (which can never be justified)and voting yourself a pay raise in the wee hours (like the idiots we sent to Harrisburg).
dg

Bernie O'Hare said...

Agreed. In both instances, the public was kept in the dark. In both instances, pols are just taking care of themselves. In both cases, the legality is questionable.

LVDem said...

well, I have to differ on the slush fund v the pay raise. To me the sneaky pay raise is worse b/c it takes public dollars while the slush fund take private dollars. Nobody made the private donors give to that pot of money. Public dollars are manditory.

Bernie O'Hare said...

But in both instances, the public was kept in the dark. Abd Cunningham should have enough sense to pay for his own coffee. I'm told he's an ex-reporter. Most reporters I know won't let anyone buy them a cup of coffee. I'm surprised he didn't know better.

Here's a question - how did the reporters find out about this? They were obviously tipped. The way the article is written, I believe someone tipped them about the legal ad in the Lehigh Law Journal, something read by Lehigh County's lawyers and judges. Could it be that someone upset about Cunningham's scaled down courthouse decided to cause him a bit of trouble?

That's what I think happened. But it's still an ethical lapse.

LSTresidentPIA said...

I have a question, why is the mayor of Bethlehem at every Lehigh County Government Function? The last time I checked, most of Bethlehem was in Northampton County. But I always see Callahan right there cheering his buddy Don on.

Mad batter said...

Revenge is a dish that is best served cold. Someone waited for the opportunity, and pulled the trigger. Don and Ed weren't stealing from the taxpayers, like certain state officials. Yes, I wish that it hadn't gone down, but now that it has, what next? These two elected officials are actually trying to lead, and those who don't like the direction are attempting to trip them up.
It's all politics, I think too many local Republiwhores are using the Rove Bible for political activity.

Anonymous said...

Bernie:

While many may disagree with this funding mechanism, Pawlowski has been very open about the existence of this fund. In fact it was even reported in The Morning Call several times as he was spending it. There was an entire article on him redecorating his office due to his allergies which stated several times most of the expenses were being paid for by the fund. Most people viewed it as a positive thing due to the simple fact taxpayer money was not being used! This article was written in a manner to solicit a negative reaction, and it worked!

I don't know where this story's roots are buried but I wouldn't be surprised if it is with the same small group of people who have filed lawsuit against the EMS taxed that was recently approved by the voters with a 3 to 1 margin.

The people behind this are active members of the Allentown Republican Party. It is very disappointing to see our city being torn apart due to partisan political bickering. The outcome of actions like these will cause Pawlowski to become impotent as mayor while the residents of the city and valley loose confidence in Allentown.

In my mind this simply makes the Republicans look like sore losers, guaranteeing their defeat next time around. When that time comes they will most likely blame their lose on uneducated Allentown voters, further ensuring their demise in our city.

Unfortunately, the biggest losers are not simply the Republican politicians, it is the future of Allentown.

Anonymous said...

To lvdem (via Bernie's Blog)
Yes, the "sneaky raise" used, or rather mis-used taxpayer dollars, while the slush fund was suppoted with private contributions. But, if not to perhaps "influence" the use of public monies, what prompts someone like Gates to "donate." Now, there is a chance that it's all innocent, but it sure as hell looks bad and smells even worse.
dg

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mad batter, I think the best way to avoid this kind of attack is not to put yourself in a situation in which that attack can be made. Common Cause notes, "It is a way for special interests, either corporate or private, to ingratiate themselves with a public official …." I agree that the tip probably came from someone with an agenda, but that doesn't change the facts, and they stink to high heaven. If we condemn bad government when it comes from Rs and fail to condemn it when it comes from Ds, then what does that say about us?

Consigliere said...

two words..."Caesar's Wife".

the standard should not be just to avoid what is illegal . . . but to avoid any hint of impropriety

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Anon, I agree with your assessment that the news tip came from someone who was motivated. I think it's great that Pawlowski avoided using public funds. But you know what? If he wants his office to be a certain way, he should dig into his own pockets. If he wants to throw a little bash after his inauguration, let him dig into his own pocket or use campaign dough. The use of private funds enables him to build his campaign coffers. It also enables private contractors to ingratiate themselves with the city. It's just another form of legal bribery.

As far as being open about this all along, I respectfully disagree. I recall vaguely reading about office imporvements, but had no idea that $12,000 was spent. I had no idea that some of these improvements were provided by businesses that have other arrangements with the county. What I find extremely disturbing is the $500,000 loan for the Farr project, and not long after a $5,000 contribution.

There is no doubt in my mind that reporters were tipped off by Rs, but that's a shame, too. I'd like to think both parties are equally offended by this kind of conduct. Look at Stoffa. He refused to do this. He's attacked as a political neophyte. Perhaps we need a few more of them.

This was bad behavior and bad government. And what is Cunningham's top aide doing writing petty cash checks to himself for a convention? Did we know about that?

It's a story that needed to be told, and I'm glad it was. I'm sorry that Cunningham and Powlowski could not see this. I had very high hopes for them.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Consigliere: There certainly is at least the appearance of impropriety.

r.moshki said...

Paul Carpenter, when he wants to, can give us objective analysis (09/05/06 M. Call). this is the Lehigh County story which should matter to everyone.

The disgraceful treatment of DENNIS COUNTERMAN by Lehigh County Injustice is something only Paul has discussed over the years.

Let's hope Dennis gets out of jail today.

r.moshki said...

Oh, that Moshki.

9/03/06 M. Call!!

Anonymous said...

Bernie:

I am sure the Call reported that the office at city hall would cost $10,000+ and I am 100% sure they reported he would be paying for much of it with leftover campaign funds.

The Call also reported a publicly known Pawlowski fund raiser that took place just a few weeks ago to cover outstanding costs for the last election and to build the coffers for the next one.

Like it or not, this has all be public on Pawlowski's part. Now some " investigative journalist" motivated by who knows what wants to frame it up in a way that to get everyone upset over what? Coffee and water?

The issue has bee brought to attention, the accounts will be closed. Nothing is illegal so nothing can be done about it. Let's let these gentlemen do their job and take us forward.

. . . Or we can just fall into this trap and bicker about this instead of participating in all the great things happening in Allentown, thus securing it's unnecessary demise.

Bill said...

Anon, You may not like it but they got caught w/ their hands in the cookie jar. You can say this was publicly known but it was pretty much hidden. Did you know Elmer Gates kicked in? Did you know that his bank then goit a LC bank account? Did you know that the Farr bldg developers kicked in? Did you know they got a nice $500,000 loan after that? This wasn't known.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Anon 3:04, You're actually quite persuasive, at least with respect to Pawlowski. You were reeling me in until you attack the reporters who wrote the story. I know one of them. He covered the Easton courthouse for several years. I both respect and admire Scott Kraus, one of the finest reporters I've ever read. He's honest and he's good. I'm sure someone was tryiong to use him, but I'm also sure that something is there.

And I'm not as convinced as everyone else that this is legal. If you use corporations to cover expenses that are ordinarily paid by your campaign funds, aren't you evading campaign finance disclosure laws? And the relationship between would be contractors and government officials is very questionable.

Abnd if these guys think this is a way to do business, Allentown and LC are both in trouble. They both closed thae accounts as soon as the press started snooping. If they were being entirely above board, why did they suddenlt close the accounts? Why not keep them open?

I've been very pleased by just about everything I've read about Mr. Pawlowski up to this point. And I'm also pleasantly surprised by Mr. Cunningham, who is exercising fiscal restraint in the courthouse expansion. But this fund was a bad idea. They must know that themselvesd., or the funds would still be open.

And I do begrudge letting businesses buy coffee or water for the county exec. It's wrong, and so is the pin money episode. Cunningham, a former reporter, knows this. I don't know a single reporter who will let a pol buy him a cup of coffee. But now that he's a pol, Cunningham is forgetting his ethics. If he wants to be governor, he better be ready to account for every penny and avoid the appearance of impropriety or they'll eat him alive.

Anonymous said...

Bernie:

It was not my intention to question Mr. Kraus's integrity as a journalist in any way. I am only trying to point out that he had an obvious angle with an obvious desired reaction. Mr Kraus (and possibly the editor who came up with the headline?) clearly tried to bring this to the public's attention as big news, when in reality it was out in the open the whole time, it just was not presented the way it was in Mr. Kraus's article. All the M Call had to do to uncover the donors was ask, it is not like there was some secret investigation behind the scenes for months. The article even stated that the excact same thing is done all over PA and the US!

What were Mr. Kraus's motivations, right now we do not know. Is it a coincidence this has come out as the same-time the EMS tax lawsuit has been filed? I'll bet you a cup of coffee and a bottle of water it is not. Stay tuned, I have had reliable sources tell me this is just the beginning of what is going to be thrown at Pawlowski!

Is it possible that Pawlowski and Cunningham are targets to undermine the region's confidence in the Democratic Party before this November's election? If so, it is just one of the long list of incidences where Allentown plays the shoe horn for and outside interest or goal.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Anon, I hear where you're coming from. And I think you're right to question who is behind the attack. I share your suspicion. In this instance, I think the criticism is entirely justified. And right after saying you don't question Kraus' integrity, you question his motives. Do we still kill messengers just because we don't like the message?

I do understand that there may be a lot more to this story. Don't forget I'm from Northampton County, where we play hardball politics. There's little doubt in my mind that Lehigh County Republicans are having a good laugh at Cunningham and Powlowski.
But this is only because those public officials let us down.

And there is no doubt in my mind that Kraus' story was fair. You observe the story itself points out this is done all the time, but fail also to mention that in other places disclosure is required. That was not the case here, and the fund was kept open for far too long to avoid distrust.

I've seen no editorial condemnation, so perhaps the MC editorial board does not viewe it as that big a deal. And if truth be told, I'm an ornery bastard. Perhaps this shouldn't bother me so much, but it does.

Thanks for you comments, and for making us all aware there's another side to this story.

Cracka said...

Bernie, go fuck yourself

I know all about you....faggot

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mindless ad hominem attacks like these are not helpful.