Congressman Bob Brady likes to describe himself as the ultimate deal maker – be it riding in on a train car to celebrate another averted SEPTA strike or swooping in, money in hand, to support the beleaguered Mummers Parade and Dad Vail regatta.
Now Brady’s very political life – and those of associates like consultant Ken Smukler – might rely partially on convincing authorities he’s been had.
Defense lawyers are arguing that $90,000 paid to a political rival was not, as federal prosecutors have alleged, aimed at compelling former Judge Jimmie Moore to drop a 2012 primary challenge in Brady’s 1st Congressional District. Most of that money was used, they say, to purchase valuable polling data commissioned by Moore’s brief campaign.
The Moore aide who orchestrated the sale, Carolyn Cavaness, must have had Brady over a barrel, according to pollster G. Terry Madonna.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of doing what I’m doing,” he remarked. “I just think that’s excessive.”
Moore’s campaign finance reports show he paid about $22,500 to Lake Research Partners, the firm that conducted the poll, and owed some $23,500 more. The poll itself was a live-call sample of 700 likely voters in the district, which covered favorability ratings for possible candidates and 40 policy questions for “message testing,” along with a PowerPoint presentation and summary.
For most elections, that counts as an unusually high-quality poll, even for a congressional race. So, what’s something like that worth?
“$30,000 to $35,000 – that makes sense. That’s fair,” said Madonna. “Why would you pay twice the amount when you can have your own polling company do it for it for less?”
According to a guilty plea extracted from Cavaness, the $90,000 was funneled into two consultancies run by Brady confidants Ken Smukler and D.A. Jones. From there, the money was paid to a holding company set up by Moore specifically for the exchange.
That’s where the two accounts differ.
In defense attorney James Eisenhower’s version of events, $65,000 was spent on the polling data, which was conducted in late 2011. The rest went to pay Cavaness, Moore’s one-time fiancée, to work as a subcontractor for Brady’s campaign.
Some, at least privately, disagreed with Madonna’s estimation of cost. A prominent Republican pollster based in Washington, D.C., who asked not to be named, said that given the confidentiality, sample size and unusual quality of research, paying upwards of $60,000 for data was conceivable.
Madonna conceded that it was possible Smukler and Brady may have bought the poll to keep it from falling into the hands of some other, future opponent.
“Maybe the point is that the data would be valuable to someone else, maybe in 2014. It’s their money – they can spend $60,000 if they want on a poll,” he said, referring to subsequent elections. “But you’re assuming there are other people who couldn't spend their own money to get their own research info.”
Brady’s campaign at the time was deep-pocketed, with over $700,000 in the bank, and faced few possible opponents after Moore dropped out. Yet some political consultants said Smukler wasted campaign money on old polling data.
“Polling data is a snapshot in time. It degrades pretty quickly,” said media consultant Ken Snyder, who has clashed with Smukler in other congressional races. "Ken knows that, so it's either an unethical act or a bad lapse in professional judgment.”
However, demonstrating intent is more important to defense lawyers than proving good judgment. Paying a surrogate to compel someone to end their candidacy is off-limits, but most campaigns pay contractors like Smukler to, in turn, hire subcontractors for polling or media work. It could be hard for prosecutors to prove that that’s not what happened, even given the unusual circumstances.
“The bottom line is that it is a feasible explanation,” Madonna said. “Maybe (Brady) just wanted to be ultra-cautious. It’s all speculation.”
That said, Brady could have problems beyond possible campaign violations. Investigators have said he tried to influence a witness to the deal – a witness the Inquirer recently revealed to be Former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode.