A.G. probes role of Phila. union's money in Berks race

Posted: July 18, 2014

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is investigating campaign contributions that a Reading mayoral candidate made to two Philadelphia City Council candidates on the same day he received $30,000 from the powerful electricians' union, Local 98.

Carolyn Myers, a spokeswoman for Kane, confirmed Wednesday that an investigation was underway, but said she couldn't discuss the matter further. The probe was first reported by the Reading Eagle newspaper.

Vaughn D. Spencer, now Reading's mayor, received the Local 98 donation days before the 2011 general election, which he won by 1,300 votes.

That same day, he contributed $10,000 each to the campaigns of then-City Councilman Bill Green and candidate Bill Rubin, who ran unsuccessfully against Councilman Brian J. O'Neill in the Far Northeast's 10th District.

Local 98 already had given $10,600 to Rubin, the maximum allowed under the city's campaign-finance limits at the time, and $10,000 to Green, who won reelection, but later resigned to become chairman of the School Reform Commission.

The Berks County elections board investigated the donations and ruled that Spencer had agreed to funnel money from Local 98 to Green and Rubin, violating the city's contribution limits and state law, which bars making campaign donations in someone else's name.

Neither Spencer nor his campaign manager had "a credible explanation for why Local 98 contributed to Spencer's campaign or why Spencer's campaign contributed to Rubin and Green," the board said in November. Spencer's campaign did not have enough cash to make the donations without Local 98's money.

Spencer's lawyer, Geoffrey R. Johnson, previously accused the election board of overstepping its authority and acting as "prosecutor, judge, and executioner." Johnson also said the board's report unfairly omitted testimony about why the checks were written - out of "a belief that by making these contributions, Spencer would increase his profile and gain greater access to campaign financing statewide and particularly from Philadelphia in future elections."

Asked Wednesday about Kane's inquiry of Spencer, Johnson responded in a two-word e-mail: "Old news."

A recent Inquirer analysis of campaign records revealed that Local 98 has donated more than $25 million to political campaigns since 2000, transforming the Philadelphia union into the biggest independent source of campaign money in the state.

John J. Dougherty, Local 98 business manager, said Wednesday night that he respected Kane, but he referred to his comments in November, when the Berks County election board released its report. At the time, he said the donations were legal, and he referred to two of the election board commissioners as tea party members "chasing an African American mayor."


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @troyjgraham

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