HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Donors, and lots of them, gave money to Attorney General Kathleen Kane for elections.
Kane, according to the most recent campaign finance filings, has given much of it to lawyers and public relations firms in her ongoing fight against perjury charges; hundreds of thousands of dollars that critics say she is using for personal, not political, purposes.
“Illegal,” says Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp. “It’s illegal and it needs to be investigated by the Department of State.”
Stilp has filed an official complaint and says the law is clear. Others aren’t so sure.
The black and white of the statute isn’t so black and white. As is often the case in Pennsylvania law, there’s ambiguity. It states that candidates may use donations to “influence the outcome of the election.”
Kane’s not the first to use donor money to pay for criminal defense. Senators Vince Fumo and Robert Mellow did it. Other lawmakers have done it, too.
“I guess some people would define staying out of jail as running for office,” Stilp said sarcastically.
Secretary of State Pedro Cortes, a lawyer, oversees elections. He wouldn’t comment on Kane’s case specifically, but understands the argument she’s making.
“The fact that you are defending your character, your actions, is directly tied in to how well, or not, you do in your elections,” Cortes said.
Historically, what’s construed as “influencing the outcome of the election,” has been interpreted broadly, allowing candidates to spend the money on a wide array of things.
“The reason why that’s able to happen is because the law itself is a joke and needs to be reformed,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D) said.
DePasquale is a former lawmaker who supported legislation that would put limits on how much candidates can get and put strings on the cash.
“Curtailing what you are allowed to spend the money on, I believe, is appropriate,” DePasquale said. “Other states have it. We can move in a better direction here.”
But Stilp insists more laws aren’t the answer. Existing statutes make it illegal for elected officials to spend campaign money on personal services like criminal defense.
“I think it is technically illegal to do it because the law says it should be used for election purposes,” Stilp said. “Just because things haven’t been investigated and prosecuted in the past doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be investigated now.”
On Tuesday, Kane announced she is not running for re-election. Since there is no election, she can no longer dip into those campaign funds, according to analysts contacted by ABC27. She can give the money to other candidates for their campaigns or hold on to it for future elections.Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download the ABC 27 News App and the ABC 27 Weather App for your phone or tablet.