Brady aide spars with feds in trial over use of campaign funds

A case centered around allegations that U.S. Rep. Bob Brady used campaign funds to pay a political rival to drop as 2012 primary challenge is nearing the end in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. (WHYY, file)

A case centered around allegations that U.S. Rep. Bob Brady used campaign funds to pay a political rival to drop as 2012 primary challenge is nearing the end in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. (WHYY, file)

Veteran political operative Ken Smukler took the witness stand Tuesday and mocked federal prosecutors over  allegations he’d broken the law in arranging payments from the campaign of Philadelphia Congressman Bob Brady to an opponent willing to drop his bid for Brady’s congressional seat.

“If you called the FEC [Federal Election Commission] and made this argument, they would find it absurd,” Smukler told Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pilger. “They would say, ‘What are you talking about?’ ”

The exchanges got so heated that U.S. District Judge Jan DuBois scolded the parties for “making speeches.”

“The grades for behavior today are not particularly high,” DuBois said at the end of the day, “and that’s an understatement.”

Smukler is the last defendant in a case centered around allegations that Brady paid former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore $90,000 from his campaign fund to drop his 2012 primary challenge.

Three other people, including Moore, have pleaded guilty to campaign finance law violations in connection with routing the money to Moore and his campaign manager.

Brady was never charged, but the revelations damaged his reputation, and he chose not to seek re-election this year.

Smukler helped arrange payments from Brady’s campaign to a company owned by Moore’s campaign manager and then-girlfriend, Carolyn Cavaness.

Smukler said the payments consisted of $65,000 for a poll Moore had commissioned, and $25,000 for Cavaness to work on Brady’s general election campaign.

Cavaness and Donald Jones, another Brady consultant, said she did no work for the money.

Prosecutors claimed those were phony transactions designed to disguise a political payoff, since such high payments from one federal campaign committee to another would violate federal campaign limits.

Moore testified in the trial that the payments were part of a deal with Brady to get him out of the campaign.

In his testimony, Smukler said Brady told him to arrange the payments.

“We need to take care of Jimmie Moore,” Brady said, according to Smukler, “$90,000 – that’s what I want to do with Jimmie Moore.”

Smukler testified the poll was a worthwhile purchase, since it included unflattering information about Brady.

Smukler said the $25,000 payment to Cavaness would benefit Brady politically, because she was an African-American woman and minister whose support would help in many parts of her district.

He said he had no idea she did no work for the money, but he said it was worth it to get her support and keep her from criticizing Brady.

“Bob Brady gets the value the minute she cashes that check,” Smukler said.

It wasn’t clear from Smukler’s testimony whether Brady sought to pay Moore to get out of the race or to help with his campaign debts after he’d already decided to withdraw.

Smukler is also charged with illegally manipulating funds when he managed Marjorie Margolies’ 2014 congressional campaign.

Closing arguments in the case are expected Thursday.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.