The dust is settling on Philly union leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty’s conviction on a slew of federal conspiracy charges. Among his guilty counts: buying a seat on the Philadelphia city council, in the form of Northeast Philly Councilman Bobby Henon, at a rate of $70,000 per year. In return, Henon did Dougherty’s bidding. Henon has been found guilty of multiple federal charges as well.
But this annual $70,000 to secure influence on the city council, while significant to the federal charges, is miniscule compared to the approximately $40 million Johnny Doc’s union, IBEW Local 98, has spent on politics across Pennsylvania since 2010.
READ MORE — Union boss John Dougherty, Philadelphia political kingmaker, convicted on conspiracy, bribery charges along with Councilman Bobby Henon
If Johnny Doc demanded loyalty from Henon for $70K per year, what did he demand from the dozens of other elected officials whom he helped propel into office?
Here’s a look at some of the top recipients of Johnny Doc’s tainted contributions.
Dougherty’s brother, Democratic Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty, tops the list. In 2015, Johnny Doc helped elect his brother to the state supreme court with more than $1.5 million in direct and in-kind contributions. In fact, IBEW was Justice Dougherty’s largest contributor, far outpacing the trial lawyers’ Committee for a Better Tomorrow, which gave $850,000. If it seems untoward that a state supreme court justice benefitted so greatly from a family member who is now a federal convict, that’s because it is.
Dougherty’s judicial picks don’t end there. As of the end of 2020, 47 sitting judges had received campaign donations from his union, including Pa. Superior Court Judge Dan McCaffery ($190,000) and Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler (just over $100,000), who was elected in 2017.
Next up is Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, who has received more than $1.2 million from Johnny Doc’s union. Notably, Wolf took $300,000 after Johnny Doc was indicted by the Justice Department in January 2019. If Johnny Doc expected a $70K-per-year councilmember to do his bidding, what did he expect from a sitting governor in exchange for $1.2 million?
If Johnny Doc expected a $70K-per-year councilmember to do his bidding, what did he expect from a sitting governor in exchange for $1.2 million?
In Philadelphia itself, Dougherty’s largesse was most significant, particularly in Northeast Philadelphia. Democrat Rep. Ed Neilson has received more than $397,000 from Johnny Doc’s union. In 2014, when Neilson was running for City Council, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that Johnny Doc credited him “with helping … build the ‘machine’” that gets union leaders “‘in the right room’ with contractors, developers, and politicians who controlled jobs.” Now that he’s been funded by that machine to the tune of nearly $400,000, what doors has Neilson opened for Dougherty and his allies?
The following Philly-area state lawmakers also received more than $100,000 each from IBEW 98:
● Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia): more than $290,000.
● Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia): $220,000. Boyle was recently arrested and charged with harassment and violating a protection from abuse order.
● Newly elected state Senator John Kane (D-Delaware): $215,000, including $140,000 since Johnny Doc’s indictment.
● Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), who’s running for US Senate: $150,000, including $50,000 since the indictment.
● Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Philadelphia): $143,000, including $23,000 since the indictment.
● Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Philadelphia): $117,500, including $70,000 since the indictment.
● Rep. Mike Driscoll (D-Philadelphia): $116,500, including more than $25,000 since the indictment.
While Pennsylvania Democrats have been the primary recipients of Johnny Doc’s largesse, Republicans also made the list.
Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, for example, has received $97,500, including nearly $22,000 since Johnny Doc’s indictment. Ironically, Schmidt recently announced his resignation as commissioner to take over the helm at Philadelphia “good government” group Committee of Seventy. Does accepting money from someone under FBI indictment now qualify as “good governance”?
Finally, raising serious concerns is Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has taken nearly $250,000 from Johnny Doc since 2005. Shapiro is now running for governor and is expected to be the Democratic nominee. When asked in early November if he thought the jury would convict Johnny Doc, Shapiro replied “I think given my role as A.G., I can’t answer that one.”
Here’s a question Shapiro can answer: Now that Johnny Doc has been convicted, will Shapiro return the $250,000? Will any of the politicians above return the tainted money, for that matter?
Now that Johnny Doc has been convicted, will Shapiro return the $250,000? Will any of the politicians above return the tainted money, for that matter?
President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war Simon Cameron — another political boss from Pennsylvania — once quipped, “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.” By this definition, will Shapiro, Wolf, Justice Dougherty and others stay honest to Dougherty, even after his fall?
From doling out millions to judges, local elected officials, our governor, our attorney general, and countless others, it’s little wonder Johnny Doc was able to shield himself from scrutiny for so many years. The question remains whether these politicians will stay loyal to Johnny Doc or separate themselves from his money — and influence — once and for all.
Gina Diorio is the Public Affairs Director at 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.