Cahill Capers

I'm finding it a little difficult to muster much outrage about the misdeeds of Tim Cahill, Scott Campbell, and Alfred Grazioso, who were indicted yesterday. On the other hand, I'm not feeling much sympathy for them either.

They allegedly conspired, while Cahill was still Treasurer, to direct the use of the Lottery's ad budget for Cahill's political gain in the gubernatorial campaign. This spilled out roughly 18 months ago, in a highly entertaining courtroom circus scene that I greatly enjoyed live-Tweeting at the time, and blogging about afterward. In fact, it was the limitations of Tweeting from that hearing that inspired me to dub a group of advisers "Yobgoblins," a term that I have continued to use whenever any of them pop up -- currently, in the Rick Santorum Presidential campaign.

Anyway, from my blog post at the time:

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....

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 allegations. 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.

 From what I could tell, the long investigation by Martha Coakley's office didn't add a whole lot to what we knew then. But it adds enough to the timeline to make reasonable people think that the campaign side did in fact have their hands in the shaping of the Lottery ad campaign.

And that's a no-no. You're not supposed to have campaign people directly advising or authorizing the activities of the political office that way. Hence the Cahill insistence, back then, that they hadn't done it.

Now, they seem to be avoiding that question, and focussing on the argument that the ad campaign itself was perfectly kosher -- that the ads, which promoted how well-run the Lottery is, came out of the ad budget and were necessary to keep people playing with confidence in the integrity of the games. This confidence had been shattered, Cahill says, by the false accusations in an ad campaign run by the Republican Governors Association on behalf of Charlie Baker.

That's a perfectly reasonable argument. But on the other hand, absolutely nobody can possibly believe that this concern -- however true and legitimate -- was not accompanied by an even greater concern about boosting Cahill's personal image for the ongoing gubernatorial campaign.

As you'll no doubt hear and read elsewhere, this is hardly unique behavior. Officeholders, and their political advisors, always try to find ways to maximize use of the office to political and electoral benefit, often with even less of a fig leaf of proper intent than Cahill had here.

Frankly, if this all came down as civil violations of ethics law, I think most people would kinda nod their heads and say OK, if the AG has the proof, Cahill & crew should be red-faced, and slapped with some kind of fine.

But, thanks to changes made in the 2009 Ethics Reform law, the charges are now criminal felonies. And to a lot of people, including me, this just doesn't feel like criminal felony behavior.

However, there's a reason that the state passed an Ethics Reform law in 2009 -- a massive lack of faith in the integrity of the Massachusetts government, as a result of great, ongoing scandals.

So maybe it makes little sense that the new law made this particular behavior a felony. But you know what? If you were running for governor in 2010, it seems to me you had to expect to be held to a very high standard of ethics, in the context of the Beacon Hill scandals. That includes knowing, and following, the new Ethics Reform law, however silly or petty some parts of the law might be.

You want to be trusted with the state government, in the wake of Wilkerson, DiMasi, the probation fiasco, etc.? You'd better come correct, as the Beastie Boys used to say.

So, that does make this different from other examples being tossed around. If Coakley and her investigators are convinced that Cahill's Capers were against the law, I can't argue with her pursuing and charging, and trying to prove it in court. Cahill & Co. will try to show that she's got it wrong. We'll see how it goes.

Of course, if and when Coakley runs for governor herself in 2014, she'd better be prepared to come correct.

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