Pennsylvania bonus scandal: Brett Cott, Democratic political operative

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HARRISBURG -- Brett Cott has never been one to stay in one place very long, but there's one place he's never left: the Democratic Party.

The longtime party loyalist grew up in the Republican state of Missouri, but spent his adult life as a Democratic political operative who moved from state to state working on campaigns. By age 25 he had risen to the epitome of the Kansas Democratic scene, becoming one of the youngest executive directors of any state party in the nation.

He also worked on campaigns in Wisconsin and Missouri before landing in Pennsylvania, where he first worked for the state party and then as a key policy adviser to caucus leaders.

Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, forced him to resign in November after an internal investigation into his role in an alleged scheme to distribute bonuses for campaign work. He resurfaced weeks later as a political consultant in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio.

"He's the guy who will get in his car and drive wherever somebody asks him to, and knock on as many doors for as many Democrats as you ask him to knock on doors for," said Mary Isenhour, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, who has known Mr. Cott since the early 1990s, when they both worked in Kansas politics.

"He's got drive and he wants to win. He's very competitive and he really believes in [party ideals]," she said. "He's one of the guys that are real believers that if we elect more Democrats the world's going to be a better place."

Now 36, Mr. Cott grew up outside rural Slater, Mo., where he was educated in a three-room schoolhouse with his mother for a teacher.

Slater is the kind of place where the major employer is a General Electric plant formerly known as Bag House Accessories, the town's only factory, where Mr. Cott once worked for three days making filters for smoke stacks. It's the kind of place where the local newspaper ran a memorial to the publisher's dead dog and where being plant supervisor of a chicken-pot-pie factory is prestigious enough to warrant an invitation to deliver the commencement address at the local high school.

Those close to Mr. Cott say it was low expectations and limited employment opportunities that drove him from the hometown he loves.

He attended Benedictine University in Atchison, Kan., where he studied hard, played football and met friends who would point him toward his first political job -- as a field coordinator earning $500 a month and sleeping on couches.

"He's hard working, a good guy," Ms. Isenhour said.

She is surprised that Mr. Cott was been accused of being involved in a scheme to distribute state tax dollars to compensate people for campaign work.

"He's not the type of person who's going to do something that's wrong on purpose," she said. "The guy goes to church every week. He's a very strong, practicing Catholic, a God-fearing guy."


Tracie Mauriello can be reached at tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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