My rule of thumb for candidates accused of campaign shenanigans/illegalities would be this: say that you take this sort of thing very seriously, that you certainly hope and expect that nobody on your staff behaved badly, but you're going to take a few days to look into it to satisfy yourself, and the public, that nothing inappropriate took place.
At the very least, that buys you time to find out what evidence is coming out publicly.
None of the three Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates recently accused of campaign shenanigans took that approach.
But let's back up a moment, to remind ourselves -- and any out-of-state or not-politically-obsessed
readers -- what got us here.
Long, long ago, roundabout the start of 2010, former GOP state represetnative Paul Loscocco tried to convince
presumptive GOP gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker to pick him as his
running-mate. Baker, in the last smart decision he made in the race,
Loscocco knocked on
independent Tim Cahill's door next, because Deval Patrick already had an LG; Cahill took him in, sparing Paul
the humiliation of begging Jill Stein to let him into the Green-Rainbow
In retrospect, we can now see more clearly what
Loscocco had to offer as an LG. What he lacked in fundraising ability,
name recognition, voter base, personality, full-tme commitment, and
trustworthiness, he more than made up for in access to incredibly bad
Baker, of course, already had a full complement of incredibly bad
political consultants. But Cahill, under a pox from both parties, was
having trouble finding incredibly bad political consultants willing to
come work for him, so Loscocco was a Godsend. In came Loscocco buddies John Yob, John
Weaver, and Adam Meldrum, often refered to collectively as "the consultants," or, as I have decided
to start calling them, "Yobgoblins."
A few weeks ago, the Yobgoblins -- including Loscocco --deserted the Cahill campaign, claiming that they had just discovered that their candidate couldn't win. That claim was particularly odd, since Cahill was actually polling as high or better at that stage of the campaign as Jesse Ventura in 1998 -- presumably the role model for an independent to win as governor. (And Cahill was a wrestler too!)
The Yobgoblins accused Cahill's people of coordinating with Lottery staff on its ad campaign, and doing campaign work on state time as Treasurer employees. Cahill accused Baker's people of coordinating with the Yobgoblins and the Republican Governors Association, and of using Cahill campaign info purloined by the Yobgoblins. The Yobgoblins accused the Patrick people of colluding with Cahill staff and the Democratic Governors Association.
Oh, and there are also lots of accusations about the Yobgoblins, but let's keep our eye on the candidates for the moment.
None of the three candidates did the "I'm taking it seriously and will look into it" approach. Cahill vehemently denied any and all wrongdoing. Baker treated the accusations as wacky, frivolous conspiracy theory undeserving of a serious response. Patrick mostly kept quiet, while letting his staff (specifically, advisor Doug Rubin) vehemently deny all wrongdoing.
All three approaches can be quite effective if the accusations melt away -- but pose dangers to the candidate if the accusations 'get legs' as we say in the news biz.
The charges against Cahill got some legs yesterday, coming out of the hearing on his lawsuit against the Yobgoblins. The hearing was to determine whether the judge would gag the Yobgoblins from disclosing any Cahill campaign info. Cahill says he's trying to keep strategy and database info out of competitor's hands; the Yobgoblins say he's trying to block the release of proof of their allegtations. The judge split the baby, protecting the former but not the latter -- and out came emails purportedly proving the Lottery ad conspiracy.
To my eyes, the emails -- which presumably are the worst and in fact totality of the evidence in the Yobgoblin's hands -- don't include a real smoking gun. But they look pretty bad, from a political/PR standpoint.
But what really looks bad is that those emails fly in the face of Cahill's adamant insistence that there was nothing at all to be found. Had he used my rule of thumb, he could now (or even better, earlier) discuss those emails along with broader context, and an expression of disappointment to learn that his staff had danced a little too close to the ethical line.
Instead, he looks like he either knew all along and was lying, or didn't know and didn't find out even after the allegations were made. That's not the kind of guy you necessarily want to put in charge of the state government.
So, that's Cahill. As for Patrick -- well, nothing's backfired on him, because after the initial broad-swiping accusation, everyone seems to have backed away from the allegations against him. Perhaps that will change, but so far the accusations have no legs, and he's been fine.
Then there's Baker. As I said above, the Baker campaign has treated the accusations as a big joke. It's initial response to the Cahill lawsuit and accusations was all of two sentences, and included the way-too-cutely-worded denial: "We did not receive any written internal information regarding the Cahill
campaign, period." And here's their entire response issued to yesterday's accusations, that the Baker campaign used a purloined database of Cahill donor's emails to send its own fundraising solicitation:
Another day, another desperate conspiracy theory from Tim Cahill. Tomorrow it will be that Terry Francona is leaking critical line-up information to the Yankees."
Which strikes me as not only inappropriately snarky, but insensitive right after the Red Sox season ended and the Yankees advanced to the ALCS. Too soon!
So far, the charges against the Baker folks haven't quite got legs -- but they haven't gone away, either. Now, the judge has ordered the Yobgoblins to provide by Monday, under oath, an accounting of everything from the Cahill campaign they have thus far disclosed to anyone, including Baker or RGA staff. If there is anything, it might not become public; presumably the Yobgoblins would ask for it to be under seal, and I would think the judge is likely to comply. But it could push the story (and the reporters) back toward Baker; and if at some point the campaign does have to admit to something -- anything really -- it could look much worse after treating the accusations and questions with such disdain.