Campaign finance lawyer Sam Stretton called Bob Brady “a great congressman” and described Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore as an “old friend.”
The relationships he has with the men made it that much harder for Stretton to learn that the two are now embroiled in a campaign scandal in which Brady, who is also Philadelphia’s Democratic party chair, apparently directed some $90,000 to Moore during their 2012 head-to-head primary race in the 1st Congressional District. Federal prosecutors recently extracted a guilty plea from a Moore aide who was party to the exchange and affirmed that the money was meant to compel the former judge to withdraw.
“He paid my old friend Jimmy Moore not to run. I was shocked,” Stretton said. “It’s outrageous and it may well be criminal because some federal campaign laws have criminal components. And the chairman of the Democratic Party shouldn't be doing this at all.”
Brady has pleaded ignorance to the deal, dumping blame on associates like political consultant Ken Smukler. But Stretton, who has worked as a campaign lawyer for decades, wasn’t buying it. In his view, the federal campaign violations were clear-cut.
“You can’t use campaign funds to bribe someone not to run. It’s not a legitimate expense. You can use your funds to destroy them, but not to pay someone not to run,” he said. “You can’t offer to pay people off. This is the whole basis of our system. It's the essence of what we are. If you can use campaign funds to bribe people to not challenge you, what’s the point of a democratic system?”
Federal Election Commission violations can carry fines or, in very rare circumstances, jail time. Lawyers for Brady and Moore have both publicly stated that neither man did anything illegal, the former claiming the money was, in fact, meant to purchase detailed polling data assembled by his rival.
Outside the legal ramifications, Stretton blasted Brady’s recent actions as outwardly appearing to be motivated by race.
“Brady has been a good congressman and good for Philadelphia. But that’s not the issue here. In my impression, he was afraid because his district is predominantly black. He’s the party chair; he should be encouraging diversity,” he said. “I can see why people get tired of running campaigns every few years. But if you don’t like it, you should retire.”
Brady, who is white, rules over a district that curls along the Delaware River and has become increasingly diverse since he swept into office in 1998. Moore is black, and had publicly criticized Brady of colluding with Republicans to gerrymander his seat, while former political candidate Tony Payton flatly accused the Congressman of seeking to redraw his district to include more white voters.
Stretton also linked Brady to the troubled 2017 special election for the 197th state House district. The lawyer is currently engaged in a lawsuit with the party, on behalf of third-party candidates, over alleged voter fraud and intimidation in that majority-Latino district.
Recently, other cracks have been showing in Brady’s nearly three decades at the reins of the local party. A Philadelphia Magazine profile detailed failures ranging from the local party’s lengthy pattern of corruption scandals and difficulty recruiting quality candidates down to its shortcomings in setting up a modern website and conducting outreach to younger voters.
This year’s DA primary was another indictment of the ward power with which Brady is often associated, as traditional party supporters were overwhelmed by a progressive wave that bore Larry Krasner and Rebecca Rhynhart to the Democratic DA and Controller nominations, respectively. Even longtime associates like Ed Rendell have criticized Brady’s leadership.
“Even he’ll tell you we have too much corruption,” the former governor said, of Brady.
Word of Brady’s new tribulations came after numerous successful corruption prosecutions by federal authorities in Southeastern PA – and on the same afternoon as a federal indictment of Allentown Mayor and fellow Democrat Ed Pawlowski, and of former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer, also a Democrat, on bribery charges. Other recent cases have taken down Congressman Chaka Fattah, DA Seth Williams and others.
Brady has not yet been linked to a larger investigation, although he has retained lawyer and former federal prosecutor James Eisenhower. Officials at the US Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia have already inferred that Brady may have sought to influence witnesses about the deal with Moore.
“I would assume it goes further,” said Stretton. “That’s the way they do it.”