A Narberth man named Chester Fulton was sentenced to jail for tax evasion Tuesday, but to me, this case wasn’t taxes. It was about honesty in judicial elections.
If you want to get elected judge in Philadelphia, you need powerful friends and you
have to pay a lot of people, including ward leaders who’ll put you on their election-day ballots, and operatives who’ll hire field workers.
Election law requires ward leaders and political committees to keep careful records of how they spend money they get from candidates, and you can compel them to show them with an official request.
I and other reporters have done this for years. But those of us trying to track election day street money found that large chunks of it disappeared into black holes.
This was the money went to “consultants,” many of whom told candidates they would pay take their money and pay ward leaders or hire street workers to help them get their judicial robes.
But because these operators were private businesses and not political committees, they never had to file reports showing how they spent the money, or how much they kept.
The downside for consultants like Chester Fulton was that the money they took from candidates was technically business income, and thus taxable.
Those of us who followed this stuff doubted the consultants were reporting the payments to the IRS, and they would have been easy for investigators to find, since candidates disclosed what they paid on their own campaign finance forms.
But until somebody clued prosecutors into this little game, they were unlikely to look at those records and make the case that was hiding in plain sight.
I figure somebody caught in one of the recent corruption probes told the feds about all this to get a more lenient sentence, and I have a suspicion about who it was.
In any case, the feds finally charged Chester Fulton and another consultant, and we can hope judicial elections will be a just a little more transparent.