Friday, February 28, 2014

Occhiogrosso, Moving On Up, Or Down?

Roy Occhiogrosso, the Vice President for Global Strategy who has shuttled back and forth between Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration and his duties at Global Strategy, has now become, according to a short piece in CTMirror, “a consultant to the Connecticut Democratic Party.” Apparently, no one in Connecticut’s media knows whether Mr. Occhiogrosso’s new Position Of Influence (POI) within the Democratic Party’s lucrative off shore political operation is a lateral or a vertical move.

Is this a political promotion, or is Mr. Occhiogrosso simply biding his time until his former boss, Mr. Malloy, decides to enter the lists for governor? Mr. Malloy has said he would make an announcement concerning his re-election as governor sometime in the merry month of May, months after Republican gubernatorial contenders have bloodied themselves in pre-general election cat fights.

How much is Mr. Occhiogrosso and/or Global Strategy getting paid for the new consultancy? And, more importantly, what specific service has Mr. Occhiogrosso, once called Mr. Malloy’s “uber-flack” by CTMirror, performed for Connecticut’s Democratic Party? Even more importantly, has Mr. Occhiogrosso declared on his tax forms all emoluments he may have received from the party for which he may or may not have performed a service?

The Feds, as Mr. Occhiogrosso must know, are back in Connecticut. They are, according to a blog written by Kevin Rennie for the Hartford Courant, gathering data in a Grand Jury that could be used by prosecutors to cut short former Governor John Rowland’s career as a radio talk show host.

A conviction may turn on the question: Did Mr. Rowland in fact perform a service for Brian Foley, the owner of a number of nursing homes, for which Mr. Foley paid Mr. Rowland $30,000? The operative prosecutorial assumption is that Mr. Rowland had received a payment from Mr. Foley in exchange for a political favor extended to Mr. Foley’s wife, Lisa Wilson Foley, who had been running as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut’s 5th District. Neither Mrs. Foley nor Mr. Rowland were politicians at the time of the possible political pay-off.

Nor is it certain that there was a political pay-off.  It has been said that Mr. Rowland had been critical of former State Senator Andrew Roraback on his program at a time when Lisa-Wilson Foley and other Republican contestants were involved in a struggle to obtain the Republican Party nomination for the 5th District U.S. Senate seat. The nomination fell to Mr. Roraback, who thereafter lost the contest in a general election to Democratic Party nominee Elizabeth Esty. Ms. Esty prevailed over union favored Democratic candidate Chris Donovan following a federal investigation into campaign financing irregularities that had forced Mr. Donovan to vacate the field. After his loss to Ms. Esty, Mr. Roraback was appointed by Mr. Malloy to Connecticut’s Superior Court.

It cannot be said that Mr. Rowland’s criticism of Mr. Roraback resulted in any political harm to Mr. Roraback, who emerged as the nominee of his party.  Neither did Ms. Foley receive an effective political benefit from radio talk show host Rowland, and most grown-ups understand that conservative radio talk show hosts tend to prefer the less leftward leaning candidate in any Republican Party contest.

Some people regard Mr. Rowland as providing balance to Connecticut’s left of center media hegemon, which tends to support the most leftward leaning candidate in primaries and general elections. The Hartford Courant, for instance, supported Ms. Esty over Mr. Roraback in the general election, even though Mr. Roraback easily passed the paper’s several litmus tests: The Republican candidate was a social liberal and a fiscal conservative; he had far more practical experience in government than Ms. Esty, and he was just the sort of moderate Republican, occasionally favored by the Courant, who might have provided a necessary balance in Connecticut’s all progressive Democratic U.S. Congressional delegation.

As a practical matter, the Courant’s endorsement of Esty was more fatal to Mr. Roraback than was Mr. Rowland’s “attack” on Mr. Roraback before the Republican nominating convention had chosen him as its designated candidate for the 5th District.

None of these quibbles would prevent a Grand Jury – essentially a prosecutorial Star Chamber operation – from returning an indictment against Mr. Rowland. A Grand Jury properly primed by an aggressive prosecutor is fully capable of indicting a watermelon on a charge of jaywalking. But the case against Mr. Rowland appears weak, if only because neither he nor Ms. Foley were active politicians in a position to dispense political favors and, bearing in mind Mr. Rowland’s public persona as a “conservative” talk show host, his negative endorsement of Mr. Roraback is not in the least surprising. How is a talk show “attack” on Mr. Roraback substantially different than an editorial attack on a candidate for office whose opponent is favored by the editorial board of a newspaper?

The notion that a radio talk show host would embrace a candidate for office, accept money from the husband of the candidate for a service that either was or was not performed, and then attack the favored candidate’s opponent is a shabby proposition. Some journalists would rightly and indignantly reject such an arrangement; so would honorable politicians. But jail time for a radio talk show host who pumps up an ideologically like-minded political wannabe – maybe not.

The failure to pay taxes for services rendered, on the other hand, is a whole different kettle of fish. Mr. Rowland’s tax payments had better be in order. And while prosecutors are on the hunt in Connecticut, Mr. Occhiogrosso’s tax representations also had better be able to pass the Mackerel in moonlight sniff test.

One can never be too careful.
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