SCRANTON – Lackawanna County Commissioner A.J. Munchak openly questioned fellow commissioner Corey O’Brien Wednesday morning on his campaign contributions from county vendors and his future political aspirations, all while facing his own public pressure.
Munchak, along with former Commissioner Robert Cordaro, face a 41-count federal indictment charging them with racketeering, money laundering, honest services fraud, bribery, extortion, and other offenses.
With a trial set for June 6, Munchak, who maintains his innocence, said that while people often see the human services and court system aspects of county government, they don’t often see the other side of public office.
“You live in a fishbowl. Everything you say, everything you do, wherever you go, people will either recognize you, comment on it, and of course agree or disagree, but that’s what our election system is all about here in the United States,” he told Dunmore Middle School students present at Wednesday’s commission meeting.
“Being in the public eye, you’re a target. You’re a target in the sense that a lot of people make allegations. This past month, and I’m sure you read the paper, I’ve been the focal point because I have false allegations against me.”
He then set his sights on O’Brien, citing recent rumors that the commissioner may be seeking another congressional run in 2012, as he did in 2010. Asking point blank for confirmation, he implied that this would take away from his job as commissioner if re-elected later this year.
“My intention is to be a county commissioner. I’m running for re-election because I think we’ve done a good job. Not a great job, but I think we’ve done a decent job. My focus is running for and serving as a county commissioner…I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t want to serve,” O’Brien responded.
O’Brien speculated that congressional redistricting would affect his home in Moosic, adding that,
therefore, “the conversation is moot.”
Munchak also made a motion, as he had at several previous meetings, to not allow solicitation of campaign contributions from vendors who do business with the county and/or county employees, saying the county ethics code has “been ignored.” The motion again died without a second.
O’Brien said that while he didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring politics into a government meeting where they are expected to serve everyone regardless of party affiliation, he felt it was his constitutional right to do so and addressed Munchak’s concern.
“People were bringing lavish gifts into this office prior to our arrival as majority commissioners, and they were stacking them up. The problem with that is there’s no disclosure or reporting of that,” O’Brien explained.
“They don’t do that anymore. There aren’t the gifts piled up two stories high in this office anymore. We’ve eliminated that. If somebody wants to give a campaign contribution, they can do that and that’s a recorded contribution that goes on a campaign finance report that the public has access to.”
While O’Brien said he was in strong support of campaign finance reform, he added that reform must come from state or federal levels due to the “constitutional issues involved.”
“I’m not going to put myself in a campaign at a disadvantage to others who are taking contributions and others who take contributions from whoever that is, whether that be a vendor or someone else,” he said.