Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Times They Are A’Changing

Paul Bass, who now writes a regular column for the Hartford Courant, would have told you a little more than a year ago that it’s legal but not kosher for politicians to accept campaign contributions from contractors with whom they do business– provided there is no quid pro quo.

Here is a piece from the Yale Daily news, dated September 30, 2005, in which Bass gave a get-out-of-jail pass to John DeStefano:

For the most part, DeStefano has managed to avoid any implications of corruption during his decade in City Hall. A notable exception occurred in 1998, when a scandal broke over a zero-interest loan his then-executive assistant, current Ward 4 Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks, received from the Livable City Initiative. Controversy ignited over a number of other controversial loans from LCI, and in the ensuing scandal, which involved an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office, DeStefano fired three top aides, including Jackson-Brooks.

But DeStefano's popularity and reputation quickly bounced back.

Local journalist Paul Bass, who has closely followed and frequently criticized DeStefano's administration for years, said that while exchanging contracts for political contributions is standard practice in New Haven, he does not believe DeStefano has ever used his position for personal financial gain.

"It's understood that if you want contract work you write a check to the mayor's governor campaign," Bass said. "That is the root of all the corruption scandals we've had in Connecticut, the pay-to-play politics. The difference is DeStefano has never shown evidence that he takes money. And that's important."

All very well and good; we always knew that contractors were just like the little people: Everyone wants to throw a dollar in the direction of politicians whose programs and ideas need a little monetary affirmation. And as long as the quid isn’t waltzing around with the pro quo, everything’s way cool.

But since 2005, the standards have changed a smidgen. Consider celebrity columnist, radio talk-show host and blogger Colin McEnroe’s lucubrations on the Moody/Rell fandango.

Mr. McEnroe begins by reminding us that, unlike the sordid Clinton/Lewinsky mess, Moody’s venture into Lies and The Lying Liars Who Tell Them is a very serious business. Some people think that the Clinton/Lewinsky case and L’Affair Moody both are trivial.

But mais non! They are wrong!

The Lewinsky case, in which the president who is responsible for high court appointments lied to a grand jury, really was trivial.

In the Moody Affair, there's a direct non-trivial connection to the way the governor's office operates, and it's much harder to argue that interest in the matter has somehow crippled Rell's operations. Unlike Clinton, she has not been deposed or impeached or asked any questions at all. The governor has been left almost startlingly un-pestered by this whole mess, even though she obviously knew quite a lot about of it.

Unpestered? Well sir, just take up and read the Hartford Courant!

But what really has put the fox in Mr. McEnroe’s bosom is the letter writing campaign.

Back to the letter-writing campaign. Today's lead letter to the Courant was from a very concerned businessman named Manish Gupta. He wants us all to understand that Rell is an ethically superior human being and that nobody has any business suggesting otherwise.

Campaign? A letter doth not a campaign make.

And who is this Manish Gupta who has soiled the paper for which Mr. McEnroe writes with a letter flattering to Ms. Moody’s enabler?

Why, he is a contractor, a “small businessman that would be hurt by the privatization protections” in a bill favored by Governor Rell. “He was featured in a news release from the governor as well as in a letter to the editor of the Hartford Courant.”

So that we will not miss the non-trivial point Mr. McEnroe is making, he enshrines in a garish blue.

Mr. Gupta has received more than $9 million in state contracts since 1995 including more than $1 million in the 10 weeks leading up to his inclusion in the news release, according to the TV report. He, his families and principals of his company have given approximately $20,000 to John Rowland, Jodi Rell and Connecticut since 1998.


There now – here is the quid in return for Rell’s pro quo: She has given Gupta contracts, and he has given to her, John Rowland and the state of Connecticut "$20,000 since 1998."

And, as if this were not corrupting enough, the man has written a fawning letter. Really, it is too much for mere flesh to bear!

But the sum contributed by Gupta to Rell is not quite so much as DeStefano has received from his fawning contractors, according to the Yale Daily News.

At architectural firm Herbert S. Newman and Partners, which designed New Haven's Nathan Hale School and two others, at least four employees have donated a total of $7,800 to DeStefano for Connecticut. Architects at S/L/A/M Collaborative, the firm responsible for designing Hillhouse High School, donated $6,000. Even famed architect Cesar Pelli, whose firm is designing the New Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, personally contributed $2,500.

The list goes on: out of 30 New Haven school construction projects that have been assigned to architects, at least 25 are contracted to firms with employees who contributed to DeStefano's campaign. All told, architects working for firms affiliated with public school construction projects have contributed over $50,000 to DeStefano's campaign effort.

According to Mr. McEnroe’s fellow columnist at the Hartford Courant, Paul Bass, the DeStefano contributions were all legit, if ethically dubious.

Then again, perhaps DeStefano’s contractors did not write letters to newspapers?

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