As the John Rowland-Brian Foley FBI investigation unfolds, it will be important to bear in mind that neither Mr. Rowland nor Lisa Wilson Foley, Brian Foley’s wife, is an active politician.
According to a report in the Register Citizen, “A federal grand jury is investigating Rowland’s connections to the 5th District Congress campaign of Lisa Wilson-Foley. Rowland worked as an “unpaid volunteer” consultant to the campaign while at the same time being paid $30,000 by Apple Rehab, a company owned by Wilson-Foley’s husband.”
Mrs. Foley is running for the U.S. Congress and has not previously held office. Mr. Rowland is a radio talk show host for (WTIC) and an ex-felon who resigned his position as governor of the state. After having pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to steal honest service, Mr. Rowland spent a year in prison and four months under house arrest. Following his release, Mr. Rowland was hired by the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce to drum up business for the city, after which he became a successful radio talk show host for WTIC-AM. Mr. Rowland lost his Waterbury position after a change of mayors.
The political disconnect means that the FBI investigation will not focus on bill-rigging, since neither of the principles mentioned by the media in connection with an FBI probe of Mr. Rowland’s business relationship with Mrs. Foley’s husband could possibly have shaped legislation. Though FBI appearances may be exceedingly misleading at the opening of an investigation, it appears that the FBI probe of Speaker of the House Chis Donovan’s office does indeed center on possible bill-rigging. Unlike Mr. Donovan, Mr. Rowland’s influence over legislation is indirect, leveraged through his radio program, the same sort of influence exerted by political columnists, editors, reporters, television news readers and talking heads.
In some overheated brains, former Governor Rowland is the devil himself; but because Mr. Rowland is not an active politician, the corrupt influence he may exert over politics in his present position is no different in kind than that of a politically influential journalist. Journalism is full of worldly scribblers who have produced copy favorable to specific politicians, afterwards moving on to work for their darlings, in the course of which they are handsomely renumerated for their efforts. Moving from the world of journalism into politics, one leaves oneself open to the charge that the prospect of employment may have affected the journalistic product.
The Berlin Wall separating politics and journalism has in it a door that opens both ways. Some former journalists have moved into politics; some politicians have traveled in the opposite direction; both have occasionally set up shop as consultants. Just as war is diplomacy by other means, so consultancy is politics by other means.
Mr. Rowland’s route -- from politics to jail to journalism – is highly unorthodox, though not unprecedented. Forced to leave office after he pummeled a gentleman he had accused of stealing the affections of his wife, former Mayor of Providence Rhode Island Buddy Cianci found a soft berth in radio broadcasting, after which he ran for governor again and won. Providence bloomed under Mr. Cianci’s hand. Ten years later he was in jail, convicted on a single charge of racketeering conspiracy. Trial Judge Ronald R. Lagueux said of Mr. Cianci, “In this mayor's two administrations, there has been more corruption in the City of Providence than in the history of this state." Upon his release from prison, Mr. Cianci once again resumed radio broadcasting.
While comparisons have been made between Mr. Rowland and Democratic Party nominee for the 23rd State Senate District Ernie Newton, both of whom served time in prison, it is important to note crucial differences.
In Connecticut, where corruption should matter more than on the national stage – because this is where we all live — Republicans can no longer appreciably shape legislative bills and budgets or distribute political patronage. Since Republicans have lost the gubernatorial slot, Connecticut has become, for all practical purposes, a one party state. And this means that the kind of corruption one associates with pol;itically active office holders lies, except in the municipalities, almost wholly in the hands of Democrats.
At present, Mr. Newton is the Democratic Party candidate for the state Senate. Objections to his candidacy on the part of Democratic leaders in the General Assembly and the governor’s office have been muted to the point of indifference. Mr. Rowland is a talk show host whose ambitions for political office almost certainly would be rebuffed by his fellow Republicans.
Some friendly Republican would do Mr. Rowland a great service were he to tap the former governor the shoulder and whisper in his ear that large amounts of money honestly arrived at cannot be had in two professions – journalism or politics. There ain’t any gold in those mines.