ENCORE: Specter Never Wanted To Be a Republican

An ENCORE of Tim Carney’s 2004 article on how Specter first ran as a Republican.
"I was apprehensive about running on the Republican [ticket]," Arlen Specter writes about his virgin foray into politics in Philadelphia in 1965. It "was almost like changing my religion." In fact, he says "the decision was even tougher."

Specter later explains his admiration for Franklin Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy. Becoming a Republican was a source of "trauma" for the District Attorney candidate. Looking back at Specter’s record 40 years later, one wonders why Specter became a Republican. His lifetime American Conservative Union voting record is 43%, which means, even in this partisan Senate, there are more Democrats to his right than there are Republicans to his left.

In his memoirs, A Passion for Truth, Specter answers the mystery: he literally sold out to the highest bidder. In January, 1965, Specter asked Pennsylvania’s Democratic U.S. Senator Joseph Clark, "Senator, will you help me? Will you help me raise money?" The Democrat said no. Senator Specter then asked the Republican Senator, Hugh Scott, "to what degree would you be willing to help me?" Scott replied, "Do anything I can for you, Arlen." The desperate Republican Party raised the money for Specter, and made sure the field was clear — the sort of assurance he couldn’t get in his own party. Thus began Specter’s career, not only of party disloyalty, but of seeking out the highest bidder when faced with a difficult question.

In 1998, as the famously tough prosecutor, Specter, like the other Senators, was preparing to serve as the jury in the case of Bill Clinton’s high crimes. In May, the embattled President ducked questions of Monica Lewinski long enough to announce his intention to name a certain Mrs. Joan Specter to the National Council on the Arts, the advisory body to the National Endowment for the Arts. The appointment comes with a per diem.

Clinton may have been advised to throw Specter this favor by his friends, corrupt union bosses Ron Carey, Terry McAuliffe and Arthur Coia. In 1996, Specter received his first $5,000 check from the Teamsters’ Union PAC. A month later, Teamsters’ boss Carey met with Specter and told him, "we remember our friends," according to Carey’s notes of the meeting. Specter had earned Carey’s friendship by playing a critical role in getting taxpayer funding for a Teamsters election that Carey won. It was later determined that Carey had inappropriately funneled some union cash into his own campaign. The Specter-sponsored election was voided, and Carey thrown out.

Laborers’ International Union boss Arthur Coia had a similar story. Feeling some heat as a target in a mob investigation, Coia got his union PAC to donate heavily to the Clinton Administration whose Justice Department then turned the investigation over to an internal board. For good measure, Coia also sent $8,000 Specter’s way.

Specter’s record of fighting for the union bosses’ agenda is well known. He votes to protect them from the same sort of disclosure laws corporations face, and otherwise earns high marks from the labor bosses. Also well documented is Specter’s ties to trial lawyers. Trial lawyers have given Specter over $1.5 million this election cycle, more than any other group. Few lawmakers are as devoted to defeating tort reform as the former prosecutor from Philadelphia.

Arlen Specter has never been a good fit in the Republican Party. Tomorrow, Pennsylvania voters have an opportunity to bring this strained relationship to an end by nominating Rep. Pat Toomey.