Culture of corruption

Angela Couloumbis and Craig McCoy reported a long story published in this past Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. The story is of interest in a number of respects. The headline refers to Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane: “Kane shut down sting that snared Phila. officials.” NRO posted a good summary by Alec Torres here. It’s the kind of story that Glenn Reynolds sometimes links to with the introductory tag “Culture of Corruption,” but I don’t think he has picked this one up.

The Inquirer article tells the story of an investigation begun when current (Republican) Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett was Attorney General. The investigation was based on an old fashioned “sting operation over three years that captured leading Philadelphia Democrats, including four members of the city’s state House delegation, on tape accepting money[.]”

When Kane took office in 2013, she shut down the investigation. In a statement to the Inquirer, Kane criticized the merits of the investigation and added an imputation of racism. The Inquirer reporters give short shrift to the charge of racism. In addition, they state: “Sources with knowledge of the sting said the investigation made financial pitches to both Republicans and Democrats, but only Democrats accepted the payments.”

Following publication of the Inquirer story on Sunday, Kane released a detailed statement in her own name. The statement appends background from her office with information provided to the Philadelphia Inquirer defending the determination that the case was not prosecutable. The statement is posted here together with the background information and both should be read in conjunction with the Inquirer story. Criticism of the investigation is arguable and perhaps well founded to some extent.

The story includes quotes from Democrats compromised in the investigation. One said she couldn’t recall taking a payment. One declined to discuss the matter. One said (through an attorney) that she had not done anything wrong. Another also claimed difficulty recalling receiving any money, but later added: “I’m trying to remember if [undercover fraudster] Ali gave me something for my birthday.”

The investigation was short of a quid pro quo for the payments and the financial corruption involved in the sting operation is small potatoes compared to the intellectual corruption involved in Kane’s defense of her action closing the investigation. The Inquirer reports that she declined to be interviewed and instead issued a statement attributed to her office. The statement quotes Kane dismissing those who question her action as “nothing more than the Good Ol’ Boys club playing political games to discredit me in order to fulfill their own selfish and improper agenda.”

Then there is Kane’s reliance on the supposed racial angle. In explaining her decision to close the investigation without charges, as the Inquirer reports, prosecutors in the case had issued orders to target only members of the General Assembly’s Black Caucus” and to ignore “potentially illegal acts by white members of the General Assembly.” The Inquirer reports that the lead prosecutor (then deputy attorney general) denies the charge and notes that the lead agent on the case was black.

The Inquirer story adds: “People close to [the lead agent] said no one ever gave him such an order and he never said such a thing to Kane’s staff. Had anyone made such a suggestion, [the lead agent] would have rejected it.” The background provided by Kane’s office to the Inquirer includes a racial breakdown of the “target statistics” in 113 recording sessions. The compilation of the numbers suggests that race was certainly on Kane’s mind.

The investigation may or may not have been meritorious. Kane’s statement of this past Sunday makes a passable case. Joe Shaheeli praises Kane, criticizes the investigation and urges a lawsuit against the Inquirer in a poorly written and poorly argued Philadelphia Public Record column. But Kane’s Good Ol’ Boys shtick and her imputations of racism appear to be the last refuge of a scoundrel.

UPDATE: Today’s news brings word that Kane is threatening a defamation lawsuit against the Inquirer. Such a lawsuit would be an exercise in futility with some purpose other than clearing her name against false statements of fact, as is the threat of a defamation lawsuit.