Once again this week, we have been reminded that at least some of the key players in Connecticut’s political realm view the democratic process as more of a game with mutable rules than a trust between the electorate and their chosen representatives. A deep-pocketed businessman, Brian Foley, and his wife, former congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, admitted in US District Court Monday that they conspired with former governor John G. Rowland to skirt campaign finance laws and hide $35,000 in payments to Rowland for political consultations in Ms Wilson-Foley’s 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination in the Fifth District. Rowland, as we all recall, was forced from the governor’s office in 2004 and subsequently convicted of corruption. He spent ten months in federal prison for accepting gifts from state contractors. Why anyone would accept even free political advice from someone with such poor judgment — much less pay $35,000 for it — is deeply confounding until you consider that the whole fiasco was predicated on cheating. In that case, Rowland’s your man.
This latest political scandal comes on the heels of a federal investigation that uncovered a criminal attempt to influence former state House Speaker Chris Donovan with illegal contributions to his congressional campaign, which foundered in 2012. The straw donors hoped to influence the Democratic House Speaker to secure continued favorable tax status for roll-your-own tobacco shops in the state. The legal papers had barely settled from that investigation before the FBI was back in Hartford in February investigating whether Republican legislative candidates were improperly ordered to use a direct mail and printing company in Florida. The state House GOP chief of staff abruptly resigned. The investigation continues, so we must wait for all the sorry details of that story to come to light.
There is a lot of cash sloshing around Connecticut’s political campaigns. The 2010 state races raised more than $55 million (followthemoney.org). Add to that the power and influence over our daily life and commerce by the legislative and administrative offices up for grabs, and the temptation for some to game the system is too much to resist. The political arts are so closely identified with the artifice of marketing and spin, cutting legal corners to win an important race or pass important legislation may look savvy and slick in the back room. To the rest of us, however, it just looks criminal.
This election year, at every meet-and-greet, every candidate town meeting, and every social media live chat, we as voters need to remind politicians of every stripe that merely to emerge from the back room unindicted is not enough: When skullduggery is going on right under your nose, don’t look away conveniently into some murky corner of deniability. Take a whiff. If something stinks, stand up and say something. Be a real representative of the people.