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Heavy Hitters: Indicted Ironworkers’ union throws lots of cash at candidates

By   /   March 12, 2014  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

The Democratic candidate in a race that could determine control of the Pennsylvania Senate says he will keep a $7,500 donation from the embattled Ironworkers Local 401 union.

John Kane, a resident of Ridley Township in Delaware County and the business manager of the Local Plumbers 690, got the campaign cash and an endorsement from the Ironworkers union last year. Ten members of the union were charged last month in federal court with crimes ranging from assault to arson after an FBI investigation.

WON’T BACK DOWN: John Kane says he plans to keep the money donated by the Ironworkers Local 401 union, in spite of the crimes alleged by an FBI investigation and federal indictment.

Kane, who is on the ballot in the 26th state Senate District, said this week he plans to keep the donation and remains proud of the support he has from “brothers and sisters in the labor movement.”

“While I am disappointed by the recent events surrounding some members, those allegations have nothing to do with the many men and women who are counting on me to fight for working families,” Kane said in an emailed statement.

The seat is now held by state Sen. Ted Erickson, R-Delaware, who announced last year he would retire at the end of the current term. Republicans have recruited Tom McGarrigle, chairman of the Delaware County Council, for the race.

It figures to be one of the most important races in the state this November. Republicans hold a 27-23 edge in the state Senate, but Democrats like their chances to pick up a few seats – including the 26th – in the Philadelphia suburbs, which are trending Democratic and may get a boost in turnout from party-goers eager to vote out the unpopular Gov. Tom Corbett.

Two other prominent Democratic candidates picked up big contributions from the union in the last year, but they are so far split on how to handle the situation.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Montgomery, who is running for governor and was endorsed by the Ironworkers’ union last year, got $10,000 from the union. But after the indictments were announced last month, she decided to donate that money to the International Association of Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation.

DON’T COME AROUND HERE NO MORE: U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz donated to charity the contribution from the Ironworkers union. She’s distanced herself from the group after they had endorsed her run for governor last year.

“We take the charges very seriously,” Mark Bergman, Schwartz’ campaign spokesman, told the Philadelphia Daily News. “If laws were broken, people need to be punished.”

State Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, who is running for Congress in the seat being vacated by Schwartz, got $14,500 from the union since the start of 2012. He told the Philadelphia Daily News he plans to keep the donations, even though he does not condone the actions detailed in the indictment.

Ten members of the Philadelphia-based union, including union boss Joe Dougherty, were charged with racketeering and participating in a conspiracy to commit criminal acts that included arson, extortion, the destruction of property and assault.

The indictment details several incidents in which the defendants allegedly threatened or assaulted contractors and non-union workers at work sites around the Philadelphia area. The defendants referred to themselves as “The Helpful Union Guys” — or THUGs — and “relied on a reputation for violence and sabotage, which had been built up in the community over many years, in order to force contractors to hire union members,” according to the indictment.

The strong-arm tactics we have seen in this case are outrageous and brazen —and an unfortunate blow to the worthy intentions of unionism,” said FBI Special Agent Edward Hanko, who was part of the investigation. “The fight for workers’ rights may sometimes call for tough tactics, but violence, intimidation, arson, and sabotage are crimes which won’t be tolerated.”

YOU’RE SO BAD: Among the alleged crimes detailed in the indictment is the 2012 arson at a Quaker Meetinghouse in Philadelphia.

Kane’s connections to the union seem to go beyond the endorsement and the campaign cash. As the head of a union in the Philadelphia area, he was at least professionally connected to Dougherty, the head of the Ironworkers’ union. Dougherty spoke favorably of Kane last year when the Philadelphia Building Trades Council, an umbrella group for the region’s unions, endorsed Kane.

With John Kane in office, working people will always have a true voice and representative in Harrisburg who understands the challenges of working families and who is committed every day to working on their behalf,” Dougherty said at the time.

Four of the alleged crimes described in the indictment took place in the Delaware County town of Ridley, Kane’s hometown.

Campaign aides said Kane and Dougherty knew each other on a professional level because they were the heads of unions in the greater Philadelphia area, but did not have a close personal relationship. Kane had no knowledge of the alleged crimes detailed in the indictment, either.

ITS GOOD TO BE KING: The Ironworkers Local 401poured more than $1.25 million into campaign coffers over the last 10 years.

“If these alleged crimes are true, I had no knowledge of them and I would like to make it clear that this is behavior that I would absolutely never condone,” Kane told PA Independent.

State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, said,  “In this circumstance, given (Dougherty’s) close involvement in the campaign, it would be more appropriate for (Kane) to return the contribution,” Pileggi said. “That would be the correct step at this point.”

The $7,500 given to Kane stands out as one of the larger single donations made by the Ironworkers’ union over the past few years. But the union is no stranger in state political circles.

According to campaign finance reports, the union has spent more than $1.25 million on campaigns since 2004. Though much of the money flows directly to candidates’ accounts, the Ironworkers 401 also support Democratic campaign committees in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties and state-level political action committees.

Over the past two years, Boyle has been the largest recipient of the union’s campaign cash. He received $14,500 from the Ironworkers, narrowly beating out Schwartz, who has received $12,500.

Others who got more than five figures from the union include U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Philadelphia; former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Bucks; state Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia; and state Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia, Brendan Boyle’s brother.

And while most contributions flow to Democrats, some prominent Republicans also get money from the union.

Among them were state Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee; and state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which handled the heated liquor privatization issue last session.

Click here for a full list of contributions from the Ironworkers Local 401 since 2012.

Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more. 

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.

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