Not all corruption is equal.
In a recent column, “A Kennedy Stirs Connecticut's Politics,” Kevin Rennie sideswiped departing Republican leader Larry Cafero, who is to the Republican Party what Rocky Marciano was to boxing, a hard slugger:
“Cafero got snagged in a 2012 federal investigation into campaign contributions and legislation. He was caught on video as an informant deposited $5,000 in cash into a refrigerator in Cafero's office. The money was converted into campaign contributions from straw donors, and the scheme was revealed last year during the criminal trial of a campaign aide to former Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan.
“What a mess Cafero leaves in his wake. His gelatinous, silent deputies, Reps. Themis Klarides and Vincent Candelora, have disgraced themselves beyond repair for failing to take a stand for honor during this long fiasco. They will wear Cafero's deep stains for however long they remain in public life.”
And the sins of the political father shall be visited upon the heads of his political children – yea, even to the tenth generation: “… gelatinous, silent deputies… have disgraced themselves beyond repair… They will wear Cafero’s deep stains for however long they remain in public life.”
And the stain that has dishonored Cafero and his gelatinous deputies is … what exactly?
An “informant,” Ray Soucy, tapped by the FBI as a singing canary, deposited an envelope containing $5,000 in cash “into a refrigerator in Cafero’s office.” Apparently – though we may never know for certain – Mr. Soucy was given the cash by the FBI and told – though we may never know for certain – to make use of it to incriminate Mr. Cafero. Mr. Soucy had earlier used money provided to him to incriminate several associates of then Speaker of the House Chris Donovan. The net cast over the troubled waters by the FBI snagged a few Donovan operatives, but the big fish, Mr. Donovan, got away. Mr. Donovan’s campaign for the 5th District seat in the U.S. House collapsed in ruins under the hammer blows of the FBI investigation.
The attempt to ensnare Mr. Cafero failed when the Republican leader in the General Assembly noticed Mr. Soucy stuffing the cash in the refrigerator and rejected the FBI bagman’s fraudulent cash donation.
Speculation may and usually does run wild at this point. Did Mr. Cafero know when the cash was being stuffed in the fridge that Mr. Soucy was an FBI plant? Probably not, because following Refrigeratorgate, Mr. Cafero did accept from Mr. Soucy tainted donations in the form of checks that he apparently did not know were tainted. The FBI later would advise Mr. Cafero he was not a target of their investigation. Mr. Soucy, the FBI plant, was successful in delivering tainted campaign funds to several of Mr. Donovan’s associates, some of whom were convicted and sentenced to prison. But Mr. Donovan, his campaign for the U.S. House in tatters, escaped the prison noose. The play of events suggests – though, of course, we may never know for certain – that the sting operation, at some point, may have been compromised. In any case, the Big Fishes wriggled free, and the FBI was satisfied with smaller fry. None of Mr. Cafero’s gelatinous associates were arrested, very possibly because neither Reps. Themis Klarides nor Vincent Candelora had accepted tainted campaign donations.
Never-the-less, the two targets of Mr. Rennie’s outrage, Ms. Klarides and Mr. Candelora, are not merely gelatinous; they “have disgraced themselves beyond repair; they are dishonorable; they will “wear Cafero's deep stains for however long they remain in public life.”
So says Connecticut’s equivalent of Nathanial Hawthorne’s the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne’s godly pastor in the Scarlet Letter. The Reverend Dimmesdale was a secret sinner always in good odor with his flock:
'People say,' said another, 'that, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to his heart that such a scandal has come upon his congregation."
In any partisan commentary that has pretentions to non-partisanship, fairness equates to equal flailing. If you whip a Republican who richly deserves the whipping – say, a felonious governor – you must find a Democrat to whip, so that the pans of your justice scale will be evenly balanced. If you whip a Democratic Speaker of the House, you must find on the Republican side someone equally odious you must flail. And the weight of the accusation must appear to be equivalent – even when the justice pans bear different weights.
There is no indication – NONE – that Ms. Klarides deserves the letter “A” Mr. Rennie has pinned upon her. Mr. Cafero’s honor was not damaged by an FBI canary whose cash campaign contribution he rejected, as politely as possible. The sting operation is as old as Adam and Eve: The serpent in the garden is God’s advocate sent upon the earth, like the FBI, to seek the ruin of men’s souls. Sometimes the satanic advocate, the tester of men, succeeds, sometimes not.
Both Mr. Donovan and Mr. Cafero rejected the overtures of the FBI’s satanic advocate, Mr. Soucy, once a union leader in Connecticut’s prison system. Because Mr. Soucy had co-operated with the FBI, he avoided jail time. Donovangate should put Mr. Rennie in mind of a remark made by Bill Buckley following a failed 1957 coup plot against Indonesian strongman Sukarno: "The attempted assassination of Sukarno last week,” Mr. Buckley wrote in National Review, “had all the earmarks of a CIA operation. Everyone in the room was killed except Sukarno."
Measured by the number of top dogs upon whom the shadow of the prison fell, the Donovan sting operation was far from successful. Perhaps Mr. Rennie will devote one of his columns to explaining why and then demand that the General Assembly create an Inspector General Office to examine and prosecute future cases of corruption in Connecticut, the state that regulates everything but itself.