Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Ethics Reform Petard in Corrupticut

The charge is that Lisa Moody, Governor Jodi Rell’s chief aid, committed an offense against the spirit of ethics regulations – or, in current parlance, an “appearance of impropriety” – when she obtained from Connecticut’s burgeoning Art Community a list of potential donors and sent the names on to campaign workers who squeezed the innocent dears for campaign contributions.

The charge, as answered by the Rell campaign and the governor herself, is that the list was available to any citizen who cared to obtain it, including news reporters. Neither Rell nor Moody, according to the view from the governor’s office, committed an impropriety when the list was sent to purse squeezers in the Rell campaign.

To this Democrats have countered: It’s not what but when. Ethics regulations prohibit the gubernatorial staff from campaigning on the state’s dime. Multiple investigations are in process.

State auditors have sifted through the ethical debris and sent their findings along to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is turning over the dirt. No one at the ethically sensitive Courant has yet suggested that Blumenthal, the all but anointed candidate for governor on the Democrat ticket, should recuse himself from any investigation touching on the person he might displace. Kevin Rennie, the first Courant writer who lifted up this particular stone, seems unconcerned at any sniff of impropriety coming from St. Blumenthal.

One wonders whether the issue would have stuck so deeply in state Rep. Christopher Caruso’s craw if Moody had obtained the names from, say, Jon Lender, the Hartford Courant investigative reporter who has now been put on the case. Caruso is the fire breathing co-chairman of the government administration and elections committee who some months ago grilled Moody in an attempt to demonstrate that she had lied under oath concerning her previous brush with unethical activity. Although the Courant was not the first paper to catch Rowland with his thumb in the pie, an honor that belongs to the Journal Inquirer, Lender, among others, was responsible for introducing former Governor John Rowland to a prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

The pressure Moody brought to bear against the Arts community would not matter at all – Indeed, in times past, this sort of thing never mattered at all – if Rowland had not been, as Shakespeare might have said, “hoisted by his own petard.” The Rowland conviction was the tap of the toe that got the ethics ball rolling. That ball has snowballed, and the muffled cries now rending the air are those of Moody, squished beneath its ponderous weight.

It does not help that Moody has been here once before. Though Moody’s actions in the present case may not be illegal, they are certainly provocative and teeter on the brink of unethical activity – as presently determined by Caruso, among other partisan Democrats who hope to hang Moody around Rell’s neck like an albatross.

It is the rolling ball that may present future problems for Democrats. Unethical impropriety is an elastic concept that may be stretched by partisans to include activity necessary to leaders who hope to push bills forward through the legislature. Only idiots believe that sweet reason alone is sufficient to persuade legislator A to vote for bill B. Caucuses are held together, as often as not, by threats and promises. And a promise, as often as not, involves an exchange of services: You do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.

Once the ethical race for purity has begun, the urge to saintliness that has become the hallmark of Caruso’s career impinges on the necessary business of legislative sausage making. Legislators without haloes would agree with Otto von Bismarck that lawmaking, like sausage making, is a messy affair; which is to say, it may sometimes involve activities unpleasant to saints like Caruso who do not entertain distinctions between lies, damned lies and the sort of behavior likely to get you a pass to jail – even if you are a member of a Democrat majority in the legislature that need not worry about gubernatorial vetoes.

One imagines such crushing snowballs rolling through the nightmares of Speaker of the House Jim Amann and President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams, the sleepless nights, the midnight sweats, the anxious mornings, the days full of doubts: In the age of ethical purity now upon us, where is the guarantee that the prison doors will not open for thee and me?
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