How the mighty have fallen.
On Nov. 15, a federal jury convicted Philadelphia union leader John Dougherty on eight counts of conspiracy in a bribery trial that has shaken the city’s Democrat political machine.
Johnny Doc, as Dougherty is known, has been at the helm of IBEW Local 98 for nearly 30 years. For the past six years, he’s also headed the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, representing about 40 unions in Philly and its suburbs.
To say Johnny Doc has built a political machine is an understatement. Over the years, his union has funded the elections of dozens of politicians across the Keystone State, ranging from city council members to governors.
GET THE FULL STORY FROM B+L: Union boss John Dougherty, Philadelphia political kingmaker, convicted on conspiracy, bribery charges along with Councilman Bobby Henon
This includes Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf, who accepted more than $1.2 million from Johnny Doc’s union. Democrat Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro has taken approximately $250,000 over the course of his political career. And Johnny Doc’s brother, Democrat Kevin Dougherty, won election to the state Supreme Court as part of the 2015 Democrat takeover of the court with more than $1.5 million in support from his brother’s union.
All told, Local 98, under Johnny Doc’s direction, has doled out more than $41 million in political spending since 2010, spanning all branches of government, according to campaign finance reports. As of the end of 2020, 47 sitting judges, 62 state lawmakers, 4 district attorneys, and 45 county and local officials owed their elections at least in part to Johnny Doc’s patronage. Most of these politicians are Democrats.
It’s little wonder Johnny Doc has been called “the most powerful pol in Pennsylvania who’s never won an election.” Even less of a wonder is that following his conviction, many elected officials weren’t keen to talk about it. Who can blame them given they’ve benefited from his campaign contributions?
Following his conviction, many elected officials weren’t keen to talk about it. Who can blame them given they’ve benefited from his campaign contributions?
While Johnny Doc’s rise to power has been indisputable, his tactics have ranged from questionable to illegal. He’s long been recognized as behind efforts to harass and intimidate builders who opt for non-union labor. In 2016, he was accused of using drones to harass a hotel developer who sought bids from both union and non-union contractors.
That same year, he was also accused of punching a non-union worker at a job site. The deputy district attorney who recommended criminal prosecution against him was promptly demoted.
Then there’s Johnny Doc’s current conspiracy conviction. Among the eight counts on which the jury found him guilty was conspiring with Philadelphia Councilmember Bobby Henon to pay Henon a union salary of more than $70,000 per year, plus health and pension benefits, and Eagles tickets, in exchange for official acts Henon took on behalf of Dougherty.
According to federal law, Johnny Doc’s bribery conviction will cost him his union job. Not surprisingly, he plans to appeal the conviction. And beyond this trial, Johnny Doc still faces at least two more trials, on charges of embezzlement and extortion.
But beyond Johnny Do’s own troubles, his conviction has dealt a blow to the Democrat machine in the largest city in the biggest swing state in the nation. Will someone fill Johnny Doc’s shoes and perpetuate the patronage that’s driven the careers of dozens of politicians? Or will Johnny Doc’s downfall finally inspire Philadelphia to emerge from the crony corruption that’s characterized the city for far too long?
Only time will tell.
Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania. www.thecommonwealthpartners.com.