The perpetually wayward Hershey Trust was an early focus of candidate Kathleen Kane's vows to be a tough top prosecutor. Her subsequent settlement with the chocolate-fueled charity as a newly minted attorney general - a capitulation that possessed all the toughness of a peanut butter cup - was one of the first signs that she would not live up to her promises.
It's fitting, then, that here at the bitter end of her tenure, Kane has just signed off on what appears to be another sweet deal for Hershey, as the Inquirer's Bob Fernandez reported last week. It's one more reminder - and one of the last, one hopes - of the sheer emptiness of the bluster with which Kane sought and has conducted herself in office.
As it happens, the Democrat announced her latest prosecutorial abdication the same week that a judge rebuffed an effort to derail Kane's own prosecution on charges that she leaked grand jury information to smear a rival. Montgomery County Judge Wendy Demchik-Alloy ruled that a trove of profane official emails discovered by Kane's office cannot be introduced at her trial, which is scheduled to begin next week if the state Supreme Court denies a last-ditch appeal.
The pornographic and bigoted emails raised troubling questions about the judges, prosecutors, and other officials who exchanged them, some of whom were deservedly expelled from the state payroll. Ever since Kane happened upon the inappropriate communications in the course of another investigation, however, she has released them selectively to distract from her own shortcomings. Meanwhile, she has yet to produce the results of a long-promised comprehensive investigation of the material.
This pattern of spectacle without substance emerged with Kane's approach to the Hershey Trust. She is not the first attorney general who failed to rein in the extraordinarily wealthy, politically connected charity, which controls the company of the same name and runs a boarding school for needy children according to the wishes of candy magnate Milton Hershey. But Kane distinguished herself during the 2012 campaign by taking issue with Republican opponent David Freed's relation by marriage to a former chairman of the trust. When Freed promised to address the conflict by turning the matter over to a special prosecutor, Kane retorted, "I am an independent prosecutor, and Mr. Freed would have to hire one."
The following year, Kane absolved Hershey officials of any wrongdoing in a pair of dubious real estate purchases in exchange for vague promises to undertake modest reforms. Much like her failure to prosecute Democratic legislators caught taking cash from an informant, Kane's latest deal with Hershey is in the same conciliatory spirit. Despite extensive evidence of extravagant executive salaries and expenses, it requires only that five board members resign through next year and does little to preclude future abuses.