DID U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah out-Fumo Fumo?
There are many differences between the 139-count indictment of State Sen. Vincent Fumo, in 2007, and yesterday's 29-count indictment of the Congressman and four others - with charges including racketeering conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. For one thing, Fumo was convicted and jailed, and we don't yet know Fattah's fate. But there are many echoes between the two:
Abuse of nonprofit charitable organizations: Fumo used Citizens Alliance, his nonprofit, as a personal ATM, using funds to enrich himself with, among other things, an extensive inventory of vacuum cleaners and power tools. Fattah, according to the indictment, used at least one of the nonprofits he established, Educational Advancement Alliance, as a shadow bank to help pay off an illegal campaign loan. That group also got a federal grant to hold a conference that never happened. As a result, the feds charge that he stole charitable and federal grant funds.
Abuse of power: Fumo used his influence to enrich Citizens Alliance with millions of dollars of public and private money. Fattah engaged in a corrupt exchange, says the indictment, by trying to pay back a loan in a scheme in which he would use his position as a Congressman to get federal funds earmarked for a nonprofit that was set up by the person he owed money to.
Erasing the lines between professional and personal: Fumo used his staff for personal use, and spent public dollars on personal pursuits. The indictment charges Fattah with misappropriating campaign funds to pay back his son's school loans.
Profound arrogance. Both Fumo and Fattah have enjoyed reputations of working hard on behalf of the city to the point where they have sported halos - both self-styled and applied by others - for doing good. Sometimes halos burn so bright they can be blinding.
There are, of course, big differences between the two. Additional charges in Fattah's case include defrauding a bank by concealing an $18,000 bribery payment by concocting a sham sale of a Porsche owned by Fattah's wife, Renee Chenault-Fattah. And the transgressions with which Fattah has been charged played out in Congress, a larger platform involving federal funds.
Fattah also has a far more versatile history of establishing nonprofit organizations to which he directs earmarks, although two of the groups mentioned in the indictment, CORE and EAA, no longer exist.
It was the plea agreement of a Fattah aide about a year ago that prompted us to call for an end to all nonprofits that are established and funded by lawmakers - both at the state or federal level. The lack of transparency - donors to 501(c)3 charities can remain anonymous - as well as the lack of oversight and accountability of such groups, and their usefulness in bolstering political stature without the confines of campaign-finance reporting, create a situation that can make their abuse so easy as to be almost inevitable.