Just as a good safe-cracker can crack the safest safe, so can a good lawyer crack the most forbidding of laws, which is why, come to think of it, good politicians bulk up on lawyers whenever they slip on banana peels. Politicians who are also lawyers sometimes find it less expensive to cut out the middleman. Then again, one always has to be careful: A fool has himself as a lawyer. For the sake of clarity, it must be mentioned here that the word “good” as used above is not intended as an ethical descriptor but rather as an indicator of legal ability. Democratic State Central Committee's lawyer David Golub (see below) is a “good” lawyer; that is, he is able to exploit a twist in the law to benefit his client.
Following the corruption conviction of Governor John Rowland,, the General Assembly, dominated since 1967 by Democrats, decided that ethical probity could become a political virtue if – big “if” – a law could be written that would prevent state contractors from contributing large sums of money to political campaigns. The clean campaign finance law passed through the General Assembly like a hot knife through butter. All incumbent politicians in the state thrust out their chests and vigorously clapped each other on the back. They, at least were, ethical.
That law has now been filleted and cooked by Connecticut’s Democratic Party. It happened, Mr. Golub assures us, because the state law forbidding campaign corruption was in conflict with a federal law allowing corruption and, in any struggle between a federal law and a state law, the state law must give way. Mr. Golub has not and will not explain in his legal brief how the two laws came to be in conflict.
The ethical and legal crash occurred because Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, once a prosecutor himself, determined that he would skirt the law promulgated by the Democratic majority in the General Assembly years earlier. He easily might have bowed to the state law, thus avoiding the conflict that soon will be played out in Connecticut’s congested courts. The conflict exists because good lawyers exist. Mr. Malloy is a good lawyer who saw an opportunity to exploit a political advantage, and he did so – brashly, unapologetically and, true to character, energetically.
Connecticut law absolutely and unambiguously prevents state contractors from contributing campaign funds to incumbent politicians who may yield to corruption and exploit the state’s political power grid. Federal law allows such crony capitalist contractors to contribute money to state political parties, which then may launder the contributions, passing them along to ethically deficient state politicians.
There is a fig leaf proviso governing the use of such funds that covers a multitude of sins. The majesty of law says to state contractors who, human nature being what it is, hope to reap benefits through their campaign contributions – no, you may not contribute to the campaigns of politicians who are in a position to assist you through the awarding of state contracts; but, says the federal law, you may send your funds to state party coffers with some assurance that the contributions will reach your intended targets.
Mr. Malloy used the laundered contributions to defray the cost of political mailers to which was attached, in very small print, the requisite fig leaf, the bare mention in a political campaign document when polls would be open on election day. This note served as a “get out the vote message,” a fine-print footnote that opened access to federal funds in the custody of the Democratic Party.
The “conflict” Mr. Malloy is now banking on to render pointless Connecticut’s clean campaign law was, in fact, caused by Mr. Malloy when he chose to exploit a tempting political opportunity that would allow him to grab more campaign funds, an action highly recommended by that old political reprobate George Washington Plunkitt (1842-1924). When an ethicist pointed out that the Tammany Hall ward boss was enriching himself at the public trough, the painfully shameless Mr. Plunkitt retorted, “I seen my opportunities, and I took’em.”
Mr. Malloy is not the first, nor will he be the last, treacly, lawyered-up politician to exploit the law for his own benefit. “If men were angels,” said James Madison, widely regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution, “there would be no need for governments” or, he might have added, for good lawyers like Mr. Golub. Mr. Madison perceived a connection between ethics, right order and government that, at least in Connecticut’s unitary state, appears to be missing in action. No doubt the lawyers will thrash out in court the bounds of legal conduct; and, of course, the case will drag on though the usual legal permutations. But one thing is absolutely certain: The Government we now have in Connecticut – unitary and rapacious – is not on the side of the angels. Indeed, the more litigious and crafty our one-party state becomes, the more it will wander into unethical thickets. Perhaps voters, if not judges, will take notice and throw out all the unabashedly unethical Plunkitts.