HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – There were three more cars with legislative license plates parked outside District Justice Michael Smith’s Harrisburg office.
Three more lawmakers are now accused of taking cash from an undercover informant posing as a lobbyist.
Representative Louise Bishop (D-Philadelphia) is charged with taking $1,500 in three payments. She had no comment on her way out of court, but did have an “A-OK” hand sign for our cameras.
Representative Michelle Brownlee (D-Philadelphia) allegedly accepted $2,000 and former Representative Harold James (D-Philadelphia), a former Philly cop, is accused of taking $750 in exchange for legislative favors.
“It’s just a black eye on our whole legislature,” said Representative Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny/Washington). “I think it just feeds the notion among the populace that we’re as a whole an untrustworthy group. I think that’s why people have lost their faith in government.”
Tuesday’s charges may also be a black eye for Attorney General Kathleen Kane. She refused to prosecute the sting case, calling it poorly handled and racially motivated, but Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, an African-American, has now charged six African-Americans with wrongdoing.
Williams has already secured one conviction and two confessions in the case. At the news conference announcing the latest charges, he called Kane’s assertion that race was a factor in the case despicable.
“I think it’s gutter,” Williams said with an intense glare and pause for effect. “I can’t say more than that, other than viscerally it makes me sick.”
Williams comments came in the morning. Kane spent the afternoon testifying at a House Appropriations Committee hearing. Afterward, Kane told the assembled media she would take one question. She was asked about Williams charging more lawmakers in a case that she kicked. Kane smiled and said simply, “No comment, thank you.”
Afterward, her press office, which is still without a communications director or press secretary after several departures, issued this statement: “Prosecutors exercise discretion all the time on the merit of pursuing a case. Attorney General Kane supports the efforts of all district attorneys to obtain equal justice under the law.”
The statement was attributed to Carolyn Myers.
During the hearing, Kane was asked by Representative Glen Grell (R-Cumberland) whether any tax dollars were being spent on lawyers for her personal defense on several legal fronts.
“This is probably the quickest answer I’ve had all day: none,” Kane said.
None should be the answer to the question: Are there any lawmakers who haven’t gotten the message yet that it’s not OK to trade cash for influence?
But Saccone said it’s not so black and white when politicians have to legally raise money in Pennsylvania, home to some of the nation’s weakest campaign finance laws. He sees how honest mistakes can happen.
“Sometimes during campaigns people offer us cash. I tell them, ‘now, I can’t take that and put it in a check and I appreciate the contribution.’ So I gotta try to be extra careful now, because we’re under scrutiny, as we should be,” he said.
Williams is certainly being scrutinized and his success in prosecuting the rejected sting case has many speculating he’ll be running for attorney general or the U.S. Senate. Even conservative Republicans have taken notice.
“You gotta give kudos to the D.A. of Philadelphia,” Saccone said. “He’s turned these cases into something that’s bearing fruit and I think it’s gonna look very favorable upon him for that.”