E-mails posted on a political blog have exposed tension between the Republican running mates for Montgomery County Board of Commissioners over the propriety of taking campaign money from a GOP leader who is a onetime felon.
District Attorney Bruce Castor, running for a seat on the commission, jabbed his running mate, incumbent Commissioner Jim Matthews, for accepting the financial support of Bob Asher, a member of the Republican National Committee who was convicted in a 1986 bribery-related case and who served eight months in prison.
Castor sent several e-mails Friday to the Pennsylvania Progressive - thepennsylvaniaprogressive.com - in response to a blog item that said Asher was raising money for the GOP team. Blogger John Morgan questioned why Castor went along with it, since he had made Asher's backing of an opponent an issue in Castor's unsuccessful 2004 bid for the Republican nomination for state attorney general.
"Believe me, the outrage is there, just not expressed in public," Castor responded. "One correction: Matthews/Castor is NOT accepting Asher money. Jim has his own campaign account (I do not). That is where the money is going . . . I have never taken a dime from Asher or Asher's PAC for this or any other campaign. I simply think it is wrong that a person convicted of political corruption hold a position of such power and influence in the Republican Party."
Asher's political influence has been a controversial issue for years in the Montgomery County GOP, with some saying he has paid his debt to society and others arguing the party should not be associated with political corruption, however ancient.
Asher, who runs a family candy company in Souderton, was convicted of conspiring with former state Treasurer Bud Dwyer to award a state contract in exchange for a $300,000 contribution to the state GOP. (Dwyer fatally shot himself in the head at a news conference just before he was to be sentenced.)
Morgan said yesterday that he asked Castor for permission before posting his two e-mails on the blog. Though Morgan is a partisan Democrat and supports his party's candidates - former U.S. Rep. Joseph Hoeffel and incumbent Commissioner Ruth Damsker - he said he did not want to "destroy" Castor, whom he respects.
"He should get credit for doing the right thing," Morgan said.
Wrote Castor: "You may certainly use anything I wrote you. I am very unhappy about this, but I see little I can do about it . . . I am trying to win with Jim. So while I am critical in private, I am not so in public, since regardless, I want him to win. I all along suspected that taking Asher money would be bad for the campaign. Thus, while I wouldn't do it as a matter of principle anyway, it also does not make political sense in my view."
Castor, in one of his posted e-mails, said he believed Asher was pressuring major GOP donors not to give to the commissioner candidates, so Matthews approached the national committeeman for help.
"I think we would have won without Asher's money and without tainting the campaign by injecting this issue into it," Castor said. "But unlike the DA's Office where I am the boss, Jim and I are equals when it comes to setting campaign policy, so I voiced my objection which Jim overruled."
Asher could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Hoeffel, the Democratic candidate, said yesterday he thought Castor was "cynical and hypocritical" in his efforts to distance himself from Asher's influence. "He's claiming he's too pure to take the Asher money but he knows very well his chance of becoming a majority commissioner is improved if Matthews takes it," Hoeffel said.
Castor said yesterday in an interview there was no tension between him and Matthews on the issue, noting that most people would not expect them to agree on everything. "Jim and I have gotten along very well," Castor said. "Some of our supporters don't like each other, but we do."