Henry David Thoreau used to say that most ways of making money lead downward. The way downward will be swift for John Rowland, former governor of Connecticut and, very likely, former radio talk show host.
Lisa Wilson Foley and her husband Brian Foley pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to having paid Mr. Rowland for “secret political assistance” by means of a sham contract, a violation of campaign finance law.
Brian Foley fessed up after federal authorities threatened to prosecute his wife. The Foleys admitted culpability in court. Lisa Wilson-Foley said, "I did not report money that my husband paid to John Rowland while he was working on my campaign," and her husband said, “I knowingly and intentionally conspired with co-conspirator one, who was John Rowland." Prosecutors negotiated with the Foleys a plea agreement under the terms of which the Foleys pled guilty to misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum penalty of a year in prison.
Having secured the co-operation of the Foleys, prosecutors will now turn their attention towards Mr. Rowland, who really ought to have read The Prince of Providence, a book that details the life and times of former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, who was, like Mr. Rowland, also a radio talk show host following his release from prison on corruption charges. Mr. Cianci, who carried with him into his radio talk show most of his vices and few of his virtues, was twice jailed, twice won the mayoralty of Providence, and twice sought refuge in radio talk show land.
It was Mr. Rowland, Connecticut’s political tar baby, who first approached the Foleys with a proposition. He would help Lisa Wilson Foley win her contest for a U.S. House seat in the 5th Congressional District. There was, however, a proviso: Any assistance from radio talk show host Rowland must be masked – and renumerated. It was the renumeration, not the assistance, that caught Mr. Rowland’s foot in the prosecutorial snare.
Connecticut’s political commentators have sometimes passed from political commentating to politics without much unfavorable notice. Charlie Morse, perhaps the longest serving political commentator at the Hartford Courant, joined the Lowell Weicker gubernatorial campaign after having written scores of columns favorable to Mr. Weicker, but Mr. Morse never accepted payment from Mr. Weicker for having written the columns. That’s a journalistic no-no. However, he did continue writing about Mr. Weicker for the Courant after having accepted a job in the Weicker administration, which is also a no-no and amounts to journalistic renumeration.
These speed bumps were no bar to Mr. Rowland, who had in the past spent some time in prison after having pled guilty to a charge of “depriving the public of honest service” when he was governor of Connecticut.
Following Mr. Rowland’s conviction, which itself followed an aborted impeachment, Hugh Keefe, who had defended many politicians caught in the coils of corruption, noted that Mr. Rowland had compromised his reputation for nickels and dimes: “…when you look closely at what he did, it was nickels and dimes. And I've known a lot of politicians, who I can talk about now because they're dead, and what was going on in the Rowland administration is really not out of line with what I know was going on in the '50s, '60s and ‘70s.”
According to prosecutors, the Lisa-Wilson Foley caper netted Mr. Rowland $35,000 – nickels and dimes.
And the tar baby soiled everyone he touched. Former Connecticut Party Chairman Chris Healy was a senior advisor to the Lisa-Wilson Foley campaign. Mr. Healy, “Political Advisor 1” in prosecution documents, authored a public statement in 2012 “denying Rowland was being paid by the Wilson-Foley campaign and saying Rowland had a paid business relationship with Foley's nursing home chain,” according to Hartford Courant story.
Queried by a courant reporter on his false statement, Mr. Healy “said that his statement only repeated what the Foleys and Rowland told him, and that he didn't know it was false. In light of Monday's guilty pleas, he said, the Foleys ‘did not tell me the truth, obviously,’ and ‘I guess’ Rowland didn't either.”
Mr. Rowland may have lied to his employer as well. Early last month, retired news director for WFSB-TV3 in Hartford Dick Ahles wrote in an op-ed piece in the Journal Inquirer, “Rowland works for a respected news organization, one of the few left on the radio. If a newspaper columnist, paid to express his opinion on politics and politicians, was employed by a candidate or her husband or even working voluntarily for a candidate without telling his readers, he’d be fired or at least have his column taken away until the matter was settled.