Brennan: The perils of overdoing it when going after political rivals

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Cameron Kline

The problem with training the heavy political artillery on a very small target is that those taking aim are just as likely to blow themselves up as they are to land a direct hit.

Meet Cameron Kline, communications director for the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. Kline knows his way around the local media, having worked for State Sen. Larry Farnese, PECO, PGW, and the Philadelphia School District since coming to town in 2002.

Kline was also on the board of the Liberty City Democratic Club, an LGBT group that has some pull in the political community. He joined the board in 2014.

And that's a problem for Kline these days.

He resigned from Liberty City's board Thursday evening and contacted the Philadelphia Board of Ethics Friday. He'll be sitting down with the Board of Ethics Monday morning.

Here's the problem: On Wednesday, Kline issued on behalf of Liberty City a statement calling on Melissa Murray Bailey, the Republican nominee for mayor, to return a campaign donation from Andrew Terhune, Republican chairman of the Eighth Ward in Center City.

Liberty City took issue with a pair of Facebook posts Terhune made in January and June, asking questions about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex marriage is constitutional and linking to articles written on the subject by conservatives.

Liberty City said the posts by Terhune, who donated the maximum of $2,900 allowed under the city's campaign finance law, were "homophobic" and accepting the money called into question Bailey's "core values."

The Republican City Committee responded Thursday by pointing out that Kline - while working for District Attorney Seth Williams - was violating a city ban on political activity by city employees. The ban covers his job with the D.A.

And that's how Kline dropped the bomb that blew himself up.

First Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann responded when I emailed Kline for comment. McCann told me about Kline's resignation from Liberty City and Monday's appointment with the Board of Ethics.

He stopped short of calling what Kline had done improper.

"We'll just let it take its course from there," McCann said. "I don't really want to comment on it or characterize it."

The Republicans were happy to characterize it.

The local party called out Kline for a "ridiculous attack . . . that essentially ties any political candidate to the social media posts made by every single one of their donors."

The GOP tried to pivot from there, pointing out that the Democratic nominee for mayor, former City Councilman Jim Kenney, has managed to crack down recently on "his own offensive and explosive rhetoric on social media."

Speaking of Kenney, he had no comment on all of this.

And why would he? Democrats enjoy a seven-to-one voter registration advantage in Philadelphia. Kenney can probably spend as much on sending an intern out for coffee than Bailey will raise in contributions during the entire campaign.

Hitting Bailey for getting the maximum allowed from just one donor smacks of pettiness.

Bailey suggested the episode appears to be "karma" for Philadelphia Democrats playing fast and loose with political rules.

"People already have to stick out their necks to contribute to me in this city," she said. "They're worried about the backlash. They're worried about what's going to happen if I don't win. And then the one person who has given me the legal limit has been attacked on all sides."

Terhune seemed more amused than offended last week by Liberty City's broadside about his social media history.

In a January Facebook post, he asked, "Does marriage equality include the right to marry one's child or sibling?"

In June he posted: "Taking bets on when it's a constitutional right for polygamy. On what basis can it be denied after this decision?"

"First of all, they're questions, not statements," Terhune said. "They're talking about constitutional issues. I don't express any opinion whatsoever. I don't know what they're taking offense about."

Terhune flatly rejected Liberty City's accusation that his posts were signs of homophobia.

"I have two gay nephews," he said. "I'm not homophobic."


brennac@phillynews.com

215-854-5973@ByChrisBrennan