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Former Pennsylvania State Treasurer Pleads Guilty to Extorting Campaign Contributions

Feb 09, 2015

The former elected Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Robert M. McCord, pleaded guilty in Federal court last week to two counts of extortion for attempting to shake down campaign donors in his failed bid to become the 2014 Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial nominee.  According to the Plea Agreement, McCord attempted to extort contributions from a Philadelphia-based law firm that provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal services to the State, and a Pennsylvania-based property management company that did significant business with the State.  In a case study of what not to do as a candidate for public office, now ex-Treasurer McCord repeatedly threatened attorneys at the law firm with economic harm if they did not devise a way to contribute at least $30,000 to his gubernatorial campaign, and attempted to use one of his "bundlers"[1] to threaten the principals of the property management firm if they did not come up with $100,000.

In conversations recorded by Federal agents, McCord was heard demanding that the managing partner of the law firm commit a significant contribution to the campaign, and threatening the partner if he did not, stating, "And that's fine but you also run a law firm, so if you are not going to hedge your bet, don't think that I am so stupid that I am not going to read you the riot act down the road.  You know what I mean."  On another occasion, McCord attempted to strong-arm the managing partner into authorizing an unnamed attorney to make a $25,000 contribution as a conduit, stating, "I mean some people come through with these huge numbers and it's like, I can't believe they're doing this.  And other people like, aren't returning my phone calls and I'm going...I can't be...at the very least I'm still gonna be the freakin' Treasurer.  What the hell are they thinking?"   

Perhaps more troubling is McCord's attempt to use one of his bundlers to extort at least $100,000 in contributions from the principals of the property management company.  McCord instructed the bundler to deliver messages to the principals warning them that McCord could influence the company's attempt to obtain additional business with the State.  For example, McCord told the bundler to convey to the principals, "If they (the Property Management Company) got 1/10th of the money they are talking about, it'd be about half a million dollars.  Right?  I mean if 1/100th is $50,000.  Instead of being part of the solution, they're part of the problem."  On another occasion, McCord instructed the bundler to tell the principals "you guys...you need to be really careful about breaking your political word because you...start break...breaking your political word to a guy who is the sitting State Treasurer..."

McCord was required to resign as Treasurer within 24 hours of signing the Plea Agreement, and each count is punishable with up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  There is no agreement as to what his sentence will be yet, and reports indicate that the investigation is ongoing and may extend to individuals who contributed to or helped raise funds for McCord's campaigns. 

McCord's behavior appears to have been unabashed and shameless, and certainly not representative of the majority of elected officeholders who serve with honesty and integrity.  Nonetheless, this case illustrates how vigilant candidates and their supporters must be when it comes to fundraising and avoiding any appearance of impropriety.  We encourage you to contact us if you have any questions regarding your political activities or interactions with elected officials.

 

[1] The Plea Agreement describes a "bundler" as "a person who solicits friends, business associates and others who are willing to contribute to a campaign and thereafter collects the contributions and delivers checks to the candidate in one big "bundle."