CALL IT A PANDEMIC of public corruption.

It's gripping Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.

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Elected leaders are probed, charged, convicted, jailed, etc. in stupendously striking succession.

A stark irony? The city and state where American democracy was born is setting the national pace for illegality in office.

You get the damage this causes, right?

It undermines faith in government, faith in politics, faith in all elected officials.

It spurs cynicism. It fuels frustration with those who fail at creating progress but succeed spectacularly at creating scandal.

And we wonder why voter turnout is at its lowest point in 72 years.

And, yeah, I know U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah has legal rights and presumed innocence until proven otherwise and blah, blah, blah.

But charges against him, including money laundering, bank fraud and bribery in "a racketeering conspiracy," sound like he was at the center of a "Fattah & Friends" mob family in which everyone got a taste.

I've known Fattah since the '80s, when he was a member of the Legislature.

I covered him when he ran for mayor. I wrote about his efforts, especially in education, in Congress. He knows how to work levers of government for good - and allegedly for evil.

In 1990, I wrote that as a freshman state senator he was a "hot prospect" who worked hard, pushed Philly issues and was "likely a future power."

I was right. I just forgot what power can do to too many who achieve it.

Let's not do the whole list. There's not enough space.

Let's just note: recently, four Philly state House members and a former Philly Traffic Court judge snagged in a "sting case"; another former Traffic Court judge busted for fixing tickets for bribes; a Philly state senator caught misusing funds.

Oh, but the ooze of awful doesn't stop at City Line Avenue.

The former mayor of Harrisburg was just indicted for racketeering, theft, bribery.

The current mayors of Reading and Allentown are under FBI investigations.

The former state treasurer, Rob McCord, resigned, pleaded guilty to extortion.

Two former state Supreme Court justices, Joan Orie Melvin and Seamus McCaffery, disgraced and gone from the state's highest bench.

The current state attorney general, Kathleen Kane, facing possible charges, alleged to have used secret grand jury material to embarrass a political foe.

All this in a state where a few years back, dozens of lawmakers, leaders and aides were caught in separate scandals, Bonusgate and Computergate, using millions in tax dollars for political gain.

There was a point when eight legislative leaders were in prison at the same time.

A national study from Indiana University in Bloomington puts Pennsylvania fifth among states for corruption, behind Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Illinois.

But the study's flawed. It stopped in 2008 and only counted federal charges. Since then and counting state charges, we must be at or near the top.

Think it matters?

A study by the nonpartisan Center for American Progress says three of the four most financially disadvantaged school districts in the nation are in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Reading and Allentown.

U.S. Census data say Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America, with the highest rate of deep poverty.

A Pew study puts Pennsylvania among the lowest states in job-creation.

Bad politics leads to bad policy.

And we have lots of bad politics. And party leaders and others who work so hard to raise so much money for campaign after campaign, year after year.

I wish that half that energy and effort was aimed at purifying the process. Campaign-contribution limits and term limits would be a start.

Gov. Wolf says Pennsylvania suffers a democracy deficit. I say it suffers an integrity deficit. The two are connected. And somebody should convene a summit.

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer