Berks County Election Board probes Reading Mayor's campaign finances

Photo courtesy of www.readingpa.gov Reading Mayor Vaughn B. Spencer

Spotting what he referred to as an “odd” contribution made to Mayor Vaughn B. Spencer’s 2011 mayoral campaign, the chairman of the Berks County Election Board has confirmed a probe has been launched into the Reading mayor’s campaign finances.

The chairman, Berks County Commissioner Mark C. Scott, said the probe specifically targets a $30,000 gift the mayor’s campaign received from a Philadelphia union, and two campaign gifts of $10,000 each to Philadelphia City Council candidates.

“I saw the $30,000 contribution in the paper and it seemed odd to me that such a large contribution would be made from a Philadelphia union,” Scott said. “Upon further research, I discovered the $10,000 contributions made to the two Philadelphia candidates. Within 24 hours, a total of $50,000 changed hands, and that was unusual.”

According to campaign finance reports filed with the county, the Friends of Vaughn Spencer committee recorded a Nov. 5, 2011, gift in the amount of $30,000 from Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. A day earlier, the campaign issued $10,000 checks to each of two Philadelphia City Council candidates, Democratic Councilman Bill Green, who was re-elected, and Democratic challenger Bill Rubin, who lost.

Since the union had already given the maximum contribution allowed by Philadelphia law to the two candidates, the focus of the probe is whether the union gave Spencer $30,000 to give to the two candidates, and kept $10,000 for himself.

State law prohibits anyone from making a campaign contribution with funds given to him for that purpose by another person or organization.

Scott said the probe, which began in August, will also look into other irregularities in the Spencer campaign, although he did not elaborate.

“There have been a number of other complaints to the board about Spencer and his accounting for various expenditures. You put it all together and it was appropriate to take a look.”

The three Berks County Commissioners who sit on the election board voted 2-0 to launch the probe, which will cost the county $8,000. Scott and Christian Y. Leinbach, both Republicans, voted in favor of hiring Philadelphia election-law lawyer Lawrence J. Tabas to conduct the investigation, results of which are expected within the next two to three weeks.

Leinbach said he was disappointed the story broke before the investigation was completed. The story was first aired publicly on a Philadelphia radio station.

“We cannot speculate what the results will be but expect a report soon. It’s important to note the commissioners voted in favor of the investigation,” Leinbach said.

Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt, a Democrat, voted to fund the investigation but abstained from the board’s vote to launch the probe.

“I abstained from being involved in the actual investigation due to any perceived conflict or favoritism toward the accused,” Barnhardt said.

He also expressed disappointment the probe was exposed.

“I wish the investigation would not have been leaked until the board received the results and recommendations from our legal team. It is now in the court of public opinion which does nothing but create an air of insinuations and rumors.”

When reached by phone, Spencer said he would have “no comment” until the official report is released.

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