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Indicted Philly politicians are collecting courtroom cash

With two members of Philadelphia City Council under federal indictment in separate cases, the tabs for defense attorneys are hefty and growing.

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (left) with Councilmember Bobby Henon (center) in 2020. Both are now under federal indictment.
Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (left) with Councilmember Bobby Henon (center) in 2020. Both are now under federal indictment.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

With two members of Philadelphia City Council under federal indictment in separate cases, Clout is certain the tabs for defense attorneys are hefty and growing.

Let’s check in on their legal defense funds.

Kenyatta Johnson this week reported raising almost $71,000 in donations in 2020 to pay for his legal bills. Bobby Henon reported almost $44,000 in donations for his defense.

Elected officials can solicit gifts to pay for legal fees when criminal charges relate to their official duties. The gifts have to be reported on annual financial disclosure forms.

Johnson used a big-net approach, reporting donations ranging in size from $50 to $5,000 from 145 people, companies, and organizations. Henon drew a smaller crowd, with 21 donations ranging from $200 to $15,000.

Henon’s biggest donation came from Local 542 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, one of 30 unions that make up the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, led by John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty.

Henon and Dougherty, who also leads Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, were indicted on corruption charges in 2019 and are due to stand trial in October. Henon is also a Local 98 official and has continued to work for the union while serving on Council.

The other building trades unions didn’t chip in for Henon’s defense fund. A source tells Clout that Local 98 isn’t helping with Henon’s legal fees. Dougherty was reelected this week as business manager for the building trades council.

As Clout reported in 2019, Dougherty has a legal defense fund, and leaders of the building trades unions were asked to kick in $15,000 each. He didn’t respond to requests for comment on the status of that defense fund this week.

Dougherty and six other Local 98 officials will also stand trial together after the Henon trial in a related case. And Dougherty faces a third trial with his nephew, stemming from a union dispute with a contractor. Henon, Dougherty, and the others have pleaded not guilty.

Johnson and his wife, Dawn Chavous, were indicted in 2020 for allegedly accepting bribes from executives at a South Philly nonprofit, Universal Companies. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

The city pays for attorneys for councilmembers under investigation until an indictment is filed. The city paid almost $213,000 for Johnson’s legal fees until last year. Henon didn’t use city funds for his defense before his indictment. Councilmembers are paid $135,900 per year.

Fetterman’s flags and fund-raising

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is the early-money front-runner in the 2022 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. The Republicans who run the General Assembly are inadvertently helping with that.

Fetterman’s office in the state Capitol building has a balcony with a nice view. He uses it to poke Republicans in culture-war soft spots, draping flags that support marijuana legalization or LGBTQ rights.

Republicans slipped into last year’s budget bill a provision that had nothing to do with spending, making it illegal to hang flags from the Capitol’s exterior. Everyone knew they had a certain balcony in mind.

Pennsylvania voters might notice if Fetterman flies a flag. They’re far more likely to pay heed if that flag gets torn down. And that’s happened three times so far, with Fetterman turning flag disputes into campaign donations.

On Tuesday, Fetterman’s campaign emailed supporters a picture of him hanging a rainbow flag from his balcony to mark the start of Pride Month. Fetterman, in the email, said his flags “are technically breaking a law.”

On cue, staffers from the state Department of General Services removed the flag. Fetterman followed up with another email, accusing Republicans of being more focused on flags than LGBTQ rights. And then he emailed supporters once more, asking for more campaign money, citing the flag to-do.

A political stunt? Sure. Effective? You bet.

Beyond the local news coverage, ABC News and Good Morning America ran stories, as did The Hill in Washington. National news like that expands a donor base. Fetterman laughs all the way to the bank while the GOP fumes about his flags.

Bob Brady gets the gilded-frame treatment

Bob Brady, chair of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, tells Clout he ducked and dodged for as long as he could. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted. And President Joe Biden wants to come to the party.

So a portrait is being painted of Brady, who served in Congress for two decades before retiring in 2018. It will hang in the Capitol hearing room where Brady served as chair of the House Administration Committee, a.k.a. the mayor of Capitol Hill.

An artist has been selected, special canvas is on order, a frame suitable for the United States Historical Society’s standards must be selected, a cocktail party unveiling is being planned, and, of course, money must be raised. A nonprofit is hard at work on that. Tax dollars won’t be used.

Greg Montanaro, chair of the Robert A. Brady Portrait Committee, estimates the project will need $70,000.

Brady said artist Julia K. Sanders, based in Old City, is working from a photograph. Clout had to ask: Did he go suit and tie or wear his more familiar Philly tuxedo?

“It’s a suit and tie,” Brady said. “I would have liked to have worn my Eagles shirt and sweat suit.”

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.