Monday, September 26, 2016

Rowland Is In Prison: Is Connecticut Safe From Political Corruption Now?

John Rowland entered prison today on the eve of what some are calling the most important presidential political debate in living memory, a sad day for some, certainly for his long-suffering wife and the very few steadfast friends who have not cut communications with him. Political friendships, Mr. Rowland must know, cannot withstand the winds of misfortune (see King Lear). Colin McEnroe has shed a tear.

Perhaps men and women of conscience might want to quibble with the outcome.

Rowland was not himself a politician when he was arraigned, unlike say, the present Mayor of Bridgeport, also a convicted felon. News reports nearly always led their stories with references to “former Governor John Rowland.” But, in fact, Rowland had not chosen, as had Mayor Joe Ganim of Bridgeport or Ernie Newton to reenter the political arena after he had served his first sentence.

He wrote a book about his prison experiences and rehabilitation. Waterbury, always the center of his universe, gave him a job, and later he was engaged as a radio talk show host, a thorn in the side of Connecticut's progressive establishment. As such, he was received, somewhat frigidly, back into the Republican Party fold.

He had made some money. Certainly he was not poor, though he was never as well off as other Connecticut politicians, U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, for instance, or U.S. Representative for life Rosa DeLauro, both of whom are millionaires several times over.

It was a bit of a slog, but the released convicted felon was making something of a comeback. Of course, during his three decades as a successful Connecticut politician, he had acquired many enemies, among them Mr. McEnroe who, since joining a Baptist Church, has had discomforting thoughts. But there are not too many people in Connecticut politics or the state’s left of center media who will be weeping on the morning of Mr. Rowland's incarceration. Most of them have other fish to fry; political eyes are on the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debate.

So then, it was not a politician, but rather someone who billed himself as a conservative radio talk-show host, who now has re-entered prison. Why should anyone care? Journalists are almost as unpopular as politicians, perhaps because they have been caught too many times playing politics.

Actually, no active politicians were involved in Mr. Rowland's most recent conviction. Lisa Wilson Foley was entering politics for the first time as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress in the state’s 5th District, and her husband, a co-conspirator who managed to escape a term in prison by cooperating with the prosecution, served no time at all. Mrs. Foley spent five months in the pokey, largely because she was unwilling to certify the prosecution’s narrative – which was that Rowland was primarily responsible for concocting and executing a illegal arrangement between himself and her husband, Brian Foley who, according to one account, paid “the state’s disgraced former governor $35,000 under the table, funneled through his nursing home and private businesses, to advise her 2012 campaign." Mr. Foley, a non-politician, paid Mr. Rowland, a radio talk-show host, a hefty though not lordly sum, to puff his wife's campaign and offer political advice.   

None of these people are entirely innocent of wrongdoing. Never-the-less, some pigs are more innocent than others. This columnist has watched and reported on the corrosive influence of money on political behavior for about forty years. And he can in good conscience testify that the money, in this case, did not purchase a political favor.

At worst, Brian Foley paid Rowland, operating as a journalist  not a politician, a lump of money to advance the career of a woman who had never served a day as an active politician. Prosecutors asked the jury to believe that the money-bags of the operation, the non-politician’s husband, was innocent enough to escape the long arm of the law. Why did the prosecution center on the recipient of the ill-gotten gains, Rowland the journalist, rather than Mr. Foley and his lawyers? Are we to believe that it was Mr. Rowland rather than Mr. Foley who instructed Mr. Foley's lawyers to draw up a fraudulent contract? Rowland was placed in the heart of darkness in this morality play because he was the juicier target.

These are quibbles for most journalists; the angels in heaven sing when the barred doors close behind a politician. But disinterested journalists should be reminded that it was a journalist, not a politician, who began serving his 2 ½ year sentence on the morning of the most important political debate of the new century.

And anyone who thinks real political corruption has taken a vacation should ponder and weep over the following headline: " New campaign fund questions Malloy clean election laws."

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