Political consultant gets 18 months for campaign schemes
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A longtime Philadelphia political consultant was sentenced Friday to a year and a half in federal prison over campaign finance violations involving two Democratic congressional campaigns.
Kenneth Smukler, a top consultant who got dozens of Democrats elected in a 30-year career, told the judge he regretted that he consistently “gamed” the Federal Election Commission.
“I have shown a callous disregard for the (FEC), a federal agency that is underfunded and totally unequipped” to monitor campaign funds, said Smukler, 58, a lawyer. “I had become someone willing to scam the system to achieve my goals.”
Smukler was convicted of helping orchestrate a $90,000 payment to then-Rep. Bob Brady’s 2012 primary election opponent using a series of false documents and illegal pass-throughs. The opponent, Jimmie Moore, had agreed to drop out of the race if Brady’s campaign could pay off his campaign debts.
Brady, who was not charged, joined dozens of others in writing letters to the judge that vouched for Smukler’s character and pleaded for leniency.
“I just hate to see this guy go away,” Brady, who didn’t run for reelection last year but remains chairman of the city Democrats, told The Philadelphia Inquirer in a phone interview. “It’s such a shame.”
At trial, Smukler had characterized the $90,000 payment as a legitimate campaign expense. Smukler’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle, questioned why Brady wouldn’t have been charged if the payment was illegal.
“If it wasn’t worthy of charging the individual whose idea it was, how could it be the type of crime that’s worthy of sending (Smukler) to prison?” McMonagle asked Friday. “You can’t with intellectual honesty say, ‘Give Brady a pass,’ . and in the same breath say send (Smukler) to prison.”
Brady has insisted the money his campaign paid to Moore was lawful and that he has done nothing wrong.
Smukler was also convicted in connection with his work on former Rep. Marjorie Margolies’ unsuccessful 2014 campaign to reclaim her seat. Prosecutors said Smukler arranged for the Margolies campaign to illegally use general election funds to pay for primary election expenditures then lied about it to the campaign’s lawyer.
Margolies, who wasn’t charged, testified at Smukler’s trial under a prosecution grant of immunity and said Smukler had assured her the maneuvers were legal.
“Smukler and consultants like him — willing to flout the rules and win at all costs — provide insulation for the more ethically challenged candidates,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric L. Gibson said in court Friday. “Smukler has successfully used his role to get his candidates ‘get-out-of-jail-free cards,’ and he wears that as a badge of honor.”