A federal indictment Tuesday charged Democratic State Sen. Larry Farnese of Philadelphia with providing a phony scholarship taken from campaign funds for the daughter of a party foot soldier. The allegations earn him membership in a growing club of indicted Philadelphia legislators and a particularly impressive series of indicted state senators from the city's First District: Farnese makes three in a row.
Unlike his indicted (and convicted) predecessors Vincent Fumo and Henry "Buddy" Cianfrani, Farnese never rose to become more than a backbencher in Harrisburg. He allegedly fell apart trying to become the leader of Center City's Eighth Ward - hardly a prize worth impaling oneself over. Ward leaders form the fetid inner circle of a Philadelphia Democratic Party that has seen a congressman, a former sheriff, five state representatives, a state senator, and eight judges accused or convicted of corruption in less than three years.
According to the FBI, Farnese paid $6,000 toward a study-abroad program for the daughter of a committeewoman he was seeking to influence in a fight over ward leadership. He allegedly wrote the check from his campaign fund, disguising it as a "donation" to Bard College in New York.
Farnese's lawyer maintained that the senator is innocent and called the fraud and conspiracy charges against him "novel." But there is nothing novel about Philadelphia's favor culture.
The charges aren't equal to the 139-count Fumo indictment, but small-time scams are the currency of a culture that pervades Philadelphia politics. Officials who lack the skills to take on leadership or difficult policy problems stay afloat by trading little favors. And while the city's legislative delegation has been consumed by low-level corruption, it has failed to make progress on important issues such as fair funding of public schools.
Farnese's indictment is the latest evidence of the failure of the city Democrats, led by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, to field strong candidates capable of representing the people of Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Republicans did Farnese the little favor of not even fielding a candidate to run against him in the fall.