EDITORIAL: Kane case may lead to much-needed change

York Dispatch
  • Ex-Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane was recently convicted of perjury and other charges.
  • She used more than $300,000 in campaign funds for her unsuccessful legal defense.
  • Now, some government watchdog groups are clamoring for change to the state's election law.

Maybe, just maybe, something good will come out of the sordid Kathleen Kane scandal.

Kane, as you almost certainly know by now, is the disgraced former Pennsylvania attorney general who was recently convicted of felony perjury and other charges for leaking grand jury documents and then lying about her actions.

Former Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane talks with an agent from her office outside the Montgomery County courtroom during a break in her trial on Thursday, August 11, 2016, in Norristown. Kane was later convicted of felony perjury and other offenses. She later resigned from office.

Unfortunately, she is just the latest in a long history of corrupt Pennsylvania politicians.

She is also just the latest state official to spend campaign funds to defend herself against criminal charges, following in the infamous footsteps of Robert Mellow, Vincent Fumo and Joan Orie, among others.

Kane dipped into her campaign war chest for more than $300,000 in an unsuccessful effort to prove her innocence.

How can that be legal?

Well, legislators don't like having restrictions on how they can spend their campaign contributions. That shouldn't be surprising.

As a result, legislators have been reluctant to change the vague wording of the state election law that allows campaign money to be spent in any manner as long as it's used to influence an election outcome.

Judges have liberally interpreted that law to claim that criminal legal defense falls under that umbrella. Again, that's not stunning news, since judges in Pennsylvania are also elected and also must raise campaign funds. Like legislators, they likely prefer not to have restrictions in place on how they can spend that cash.

Hopefully, the Kane case will be the tipping point in changing the law.

Some government watchdog groups are already working hard to do just that.

“This is a clear-cut case of theft by decption,” said Eric Epstein of taxpayer-advocacy group Rock the Capital. “You have an elected official who raised funds to enforce laws, not break them. People who contributed had no idea they'd be underwriting a legal defense fund.”

There are certain instances when campaign money can rightfully be spent in a court case, such as a challenge to signatures on a nominating petition.

It should not be legal, however, to spend campaign cash to defend yourself against criminal charges. That's a personal matter and personal cash should be used for it.

Passing a tougher law with more precise language will not be easy, however.

Kane case leaves activists clamoring for change

The legislators, for the reasons stated above, will likely drag their feet and hope the issue fades away.

We simply can't allow that to happen.

Write or call your state representative and demand change. We must hold the politicians' feet to the fire.

If enough of us band together, our voices will be heard.

And maybe, just maybe, something good will come out of the sordid Kathleen Kane scandal.

Information for this editorial was provided by a story from the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice.