Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has long been known for spending big to influence elections in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania.

But now its leader, John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, needs help as he and seven other union officials fight a 116-count federal indictment that accuses them of embezzling more than $600,000 from the union.

So the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, which Dougherty also leads, is launching a legal defense fund for him. And Clout hears that Dougherty’s fellow union leaders are being asked to dig deep — $15,000 each — to fill the fund.

Pat Eiding, president of the AFL-CIO in Philadelphia and secretary-treasurer of the building trades council, said the fund was announced after a meeting last week, which Dougherty himself attended. Pat Gillespie, who led the council for 34 years before retiring in 2015 and selecting Dougherty as his replacement, made the pitch. Wayne Miller, leader of Sprinkler Fitters Local 692, will run the fund with Gillespie, Eiding said.

Sources say Gillespie asked the union leaders to contribute or raise $15,000 each. And that money must come from personal donations, not union funds.

Dougherty and his cohorts are accused of using Local 98 funds for personal items, both mundane (baby wipes, bottled water, rawhide dog bones, mouthwash, cereal, cakes) and extravagant (concert tickets, home and business renovations, travel, vacations and trips to horse races). Dougherty and his fellow defendants have all pleaded not guilty.

Dougherty, who is paid almost $370,000 annually by Local 98, did not respond to a request for comment. Gillespie and Miller also did not respond to Clout’s hails.

Eiding said union leaders created a similar fund for Joe Dougherty, the former head of Ironworkers Local 401, who was sentenced in 2015 to 19 years in federal prison for using sabotage, arson, and intimidation to keep his members working at job sites. (He is not related to John Dougherty.)

“This is not the first time we’ve been down this road,” Eiding said.

This is also not the first time the building trades council has stood in solidarity with Dougherty. The group agreed in February to deny campaign contributions to any political candidate who spurned support from Local 98 after the indictments.

An Inquirer analysis that month showed Local 98 had collected just under $41 million from 2002 to 2018, mostly in small-dollar donations from its own members, to make political donations. The union’s political action committee had $8.9 million in the bank as of Sept. 16.

And it’s not shy about spending it. Philly 2019, a political action committee started this year to support Mayor Jim Kenney’s bid for a second term, brought in $930,000 from building trades unions from March to May, even though Kenney was never in danger of losing the Democratic primary election. Local 98 kicked in $400,000 for that effort.

Screenshots of Twitter direct messages from the Philadelphia Parking Authority to Audrey Zee Whitesides, including a link to pornagraphic material.
Courtesy Audrey Zee Whitesides
Screenshots of Twitter direct messages from the Philadelphia Parking Authority to Audrey Zee Whitesides, including a link to pornagraphic material.

Getting out of a parking ticket the hard way

Clout told you last week about West Philly rocker Audrey Zee Whitesides, who lost her parking ticket in Fishtown and sought out the wisdom of Twitter to resolve the matter.

Without getting into all the raunchy details, the Philadelphia Parking Authority needed some damage control after a contractor running the agency’s Twitter account, @PhilaParking, sent Whitesides what the agency called “inappropriate and unapproved content.”

Specifically, it was pornography. It promptly went viral.

The PPA has since prohibited the contractor, ChatterBlast, from allowing its employees to conduct PPA business while, eh, “working from home.”

“The PPA apologizes,” spokesperson Marty O’Rourke said, “for any offense this may have caused.”

Whitesides just laughed off the unsolicited porn.

As for the $26 ticket, the PPA apparently took the advice of The Big Lebowski’s noted bowler Walter Sobchak and decided to quietly mark it zero.

“I still am not entirely sure,” Whitesides said Thursday. “They never reached out to me or anything, I just went on their website to pay it and it said the balance owed was $0.”

Perhaps the silent treatment is the best approach here, given what happened the last time the PPA reached out to Whitesides. O’Rourke said parking disputes are confidential.

Regardless, she is elated, tweeting on Monday: “I could buy a new Gunpla for the amount I thought I was going to pay for this… the possibilities that exist in my life now.”

The RNC mails Delco voters a con-census

Do you approve or disapprove of the Democrats’ agenda to raise taxes, provide free health care and college tuition for all, open our borders to all immigrants, enact dangerous abortion policies, pack the Supreme Court, allow inmates to vote, and abolish the Electoral College?”

That is Question Three in a “2019 Congressional District Census” that arrived in the mail for Delaware County voters this week, sparking outrage from U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat, who decried the official-looking form as an attempt “to mislead people” in her district.

The form, really an elaborate fund-raising pitch for the Republican National Committee, is marked at the top as “commissioned by the Republican Party.” But it has still stirred controversy, cast as deceptive when it arrived by mail for some Montana voters this month.

Scanlon responded by, naturally, asking her supporters for campaign donations to “protect the sanctity of the census.”