Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Lehigh Valley's Big Campaign Spenders: They Just Want Good Government

If I offered Northampton County Executive John Stoffa a kickback for hiring me to do all county title searches, I'd be in the can quicker than you could say "stay the course." Bribery's illegal, and unless I pulled off a brilliant escape, I'd probably be tortured, raped and branded by those bastards in black dresses.

Yet there's a small group of people who've become very rich bribing our local pols. But they do it legally. They call them campaign contributions. And they avoid bribery charges by saying they expect nothing in return. No siree. They just do this out of the goodness of their hearts. And guess what? They've made millions and will continue to do so while Nicole Fogel sits in jail.

It's "pay to play," bippy, and it's alive and well in the Lehigh Valley. Throw a few bucks at the pols, and you'll see millions in government subsidies and contracts. And it happens everywhere. Only five states (South Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Hawaii and New Jersey) have attempted to impose restrictions on campaign contributions by those seeking government contracts. Pennsylvania, the only state in the nation with no lobbyist disclosure laws, imposes no restrictions at all. Let me tell you about two groups that have benefited from a generous dose of campaign contributions - Teams Butz and Pektor.

1. Team Butz

Alvin H. Butz, Inc., has bragging rights as the oldest and largest construction company of its kind in the Lehigh Valley. But look around and ask this question - is there any large government project in the Lehigh Valley that Butz does not build? Builder of Bethlehem's $65 million Penn Forest Dam? Butz. Northampton County's overbudget judicial Taj Mahal? Butz again. And guess who's slated to do the additions and renovations at Lehigh County's courthouse? You got it, Butz has that deal, too. But does Butz get all these deals because it is good or because it likes to throw its money at local pols?

I've checked campaign finance records at the state (from 2001)and federal (from 1998) level for contributions made by Butz family members. Butz family members have contributed nearly $105,000 to politicians running for federal or state office. And this figure does not include county or municipal pols. They also benefit from Butz largesse, but it is impossible to give an exact figure without going through individual reports.

Team Butz loves incumbents, not political parties. Money is thrown at elected reps in both parties, from $19,150 for democratic Governor Ed Rendell to $16,400 for republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Contributions to office holders in both parties certainly suggest that Team Butz' motivation is not ideology but business - they want some bang for their buck.

And they get it, too. $105,000 is chump change to Butz, which has already soaked Northampton County taxpayers $3.6 million for the judges' new digs on the basis of an illegal and ambiguously worded contract that was never bid. That contract was negotiated by erstwhile exec. and campaign contribution beneficiary Glenn Reibman.

It's funny no one complained about this contract until John Stoffa became county exec. Unlike nearly every other politician, Stoffa refuses to accept contributions from anyone who wants to do business with him in his official capacity. He didn't need a law to tell him that's just wrong.

2. Team Pektor

On September 11, fifth anniversary of the day we were attacked at Twin Towers, the Guv' was in Bethlehem, joined by a wide array of local political hacks like former county exec Glenn Reibman. But they weren't reflecting on the loss of 2,749 lives at our WTC just five short years before. Instead, they were slapping each other on the back in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the Riverport, elegant one and two bedroom condos designed to attract artsy-fartsys and Jersey commuters. Pennsylvania invested $2.5 million to get this project off the ground. Northampton County, whose employees have seen no raises in nearly four years, kicked in another mil. And the center of attention was Lou Pektor, whose Ashley Development Corp. also picked up $1.75 million in state money to redevelop Pomeroy's in downtown Easton.

Sinking all this money into urban areas is justified on the basis that it serves as a catalyst for future growth and revitalization. And this may be true. But it's equally true that Pektor has been very generous to Lehigh Valley politicians, especially incumbents.

In the past five years, Team Pektor has invested at least $70,050 in politicians seeking federal and state office. There's no way of telling exactly how much was spent on pols running for municipal jobs without going through individual reports, but Pektor was a regular Reibman contributor. He's given state senator Lisa Boscola alone at least $20,950.

Like Team Butz, Team Pektor backs incumbents, and their party affiliation is irrelevant.

Now I don't fault either Pektor or Butz for trying to make a buck. They're businessmen. But don't you think it's time to end this legal bribery? In a state that can't even pass lobbyist disclosure laws, that's an unlikely outcome. That's why we really need to take a close look at incumbents seeking re-election to our state legislature.


r.moshki said...

It's lose-lose.

Under a socialist system this stuff woudn't happen in theory; chuckle, 'nort.

Our system is a shtinkee--it's been SHOW ME THE MONIES since---1776?

Bernie O'Hare said...

It would be very easy to adopt legislation that would prohibit anyone who makes a political contribtion from getting a government contract for 12 or 24 months. That type of legislation has withstood litigation. But I don't think we'll se anything like that in Pa. anytime soon, at least not with the current scoundrels.

Dem Fly on the wall said...

Go look at how much Pektor and several employees of ASHLEY gave to Doug Reichley this year.
Property tax relief for the wealthy, but not the Average American Family. Thanks guys. Campaign donations my sweet tight little ass, call it what it is, BRIBERY!

Bernie O'Hare said...

DemFly, We're talking $20k in developer money to Reichley in just 5 short months. If you want to know where a candidate really stands, forget what he says and FOLLOW THE MONEY. Contrary to what some Greens think, it is our business.

RadCenter said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Riverport going to be built in the part of Easton that regularly gets flooded? If so, expect some taxpayer-funded floodplain remediation coming your way soon.

Anonymous said...

That's why theycall it "riverport" It's a floating crapgame.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Just to clarify, the riverport of which I speak is located in south Bethlehem. The development planned in Easton's flood plain is with another developer. And as you may have guessed, he's another heavy duty campaign contributor.

LVDem said...

all those donors want is gov't that works for them... at the expense of the rest of us quite often.

c.c.keiser said...

So tell me, is Ethical Capitalism an oxymoron?
Ike was right, we no longer live in a Democracy; we live in a Capitalistic Republic unfettered of a social conscience.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I can't help but think we're only getting a small part of the pitcure, too. County records are not available online are are nearly impossible to look at when you're searching by donor. And these guys also funnel money to candidates thru their pals.