EDITORIAL: Kane latest in parade of Pa.’s trust breakers

York Dispatch Editorial Board
FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2015, file photo, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane departs after her preliminary hearing at the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown, Pa. Kane was sentenced to 10-23 months in jail and eight years of probation Monday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane made national headlines last week – perhaps for the last time and in a very different manner than she did when first bursting onto the political scene five years ago.

Her appeals exhausted, Kane surrendered herself to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in suburban Philadelphia on Thursday to begin serving a 10- to 23-month sentence for leaking grand jury information, then lying in an attempt to cover it up.

It is a disappointing denouement to a career that had seemed so promising for the first female — and first Democrat — ever elected to Pennsylvania’s highest law-enforcement office.

In taking up residence behind bars, she joins, among others, former state treasurer Rob McCord and ex-congressman Chaka Fattah, both of whom are doing time for official misconduct. She also adds her name to a veritable rogue’s gallery of state lawmakers from the recent and distant past.

While it is reassuring that “no one is above the law,” as Kevin Steele, the Montgomery County DA who prosecuted Kane, said in a statement after she reported to jail, it is less so that so many of Pennsylvania’s lawmakers mishandle the public trust.

Recall, Kane herself, before coming undone by her own missteps, was instrumental in uncovering an online web of racism, sexism and misogyny among state employees and officials, including state Supreme Court justices and the head of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Her passage through jailhouse doors comes just months after fellow Democrat McCord (reelected the night Kane was elevated to attorney general) was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. McCord, who at one time had his sights on the governor’s office, pleaded guilty in February 2015 to two counts of extortion.

He sentencing follows that of another former state treasurer, Barbara Hafer, who was convicted of lying to the FBI in a pay-to-play scam that took down other state officials. She was sentenced in October 2017 to 36 months’ probation.

McCord’s sentencing also came just weeks after a federal appeals court reaffirmed racketeering, fraud and obstruction-of-justice charges against former longtime congressional representative Fattah. (Bribery charges against the Democratic lawmaker, who is serving a 10-year prison term, were overturned.)

All of this is nothing new. Pennsylvania’s political past is littered with the names of the infamous: Robert Mellow, former Democratic Senate President Pro Tem who pled guilty in 2012 to mail fraud conspiracy and tax fraud; Bill DeWeese and John Perzel, onetime Democratic and Republican House speakers (respectively), and the 20-some other House leaders and staffers who were convicted in the so-called Computergate and Bonusgate corruption cases; and, of course, 1980s state treasurer Budd Dwyer, whose role in a bribery scandal culminated in one of the darkest days in state political history, ending not only his career but his life.

The wrongdoing has been across the board: bipartisan, at the state and federal (and, no doubt, local) levels, both recent and historic. There appears to be no common thread other than, perhaps, simple avarice – the desire for money, power, revenge.

So, Kane’s fall from political grace is not a novel story in Pennsylvania. If anything, just the opposite. State residents have seen this arc play out many times before.

There is a moral, of course, but it is one that too often goes either unnoticed or unheeded in political circles. That’s unfortunate. The results are not only costly, they lead to a parade of prison-bound politicos that contributes to increased public apathy and cynicism toward not only politics but its practitioners.