Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Braddock Takes A Bullet

Robert Braddock, the hapless finance director for the Chris Donovan U.S. House campaign, took the bullet bravely enough.

Outside the courtroom in which he was sentenced to 38 months for having accepted fraudulent campaign contributions for Mr. Donovan, Mr. Braddock spilled the beans.

FBI agents, Mr. Braddock told the media, offered him a deal he had bravely refused. The FBI, directing Donovangate from behind the curtain, wanted to wire-up Mr. Braddock so they might haul in a larger catch – perhaps Mr. Donovan himself – but Mr. Braddock refused to cooperate because, unlike FBI “rats” Joshua Nassi and Raymond Souci, a certain private code of honor kept him out of the FBI sting operation.

"Nassi became a rat,” Mr. Braddock said, “and I refused to do that because that's not what we do and I am proud of that.''

With this valiant bit  of chest puffing, Mr. Braddock was off to prison.

Did he suppose he might in the future dip his toes once again into political waters, Mr. Braddock was asked?

Mr. Braddock’s answer is as precious as it was colorful: "You couldn't force me to work in politics ever again. If the judge really wanted to make it worse she could have sentenced me to work for another campaign."

FBI political sting operations, as everyone in Corrupticut must know by now, follow a ridged, all too predictable script: 1) Sniff out the prospect of a political corruption scheme. In the one party state where crony politics has become a way of life, the prospect of corruption is everywhere. States collect tax monies, putatively to advance the public good, and impose on the private market place a regulatory structure laced with exceptions that may be purchased through private, under-the-table arrangements; 2) infiltrate the political theater with wired canaries, actors in the sting drama easily manipulated by threats of punishment.  It is not only mobsters who dangle before criminal actors “offers they can’t refuse. The FBI does the same, more elegantly and with less bloodletting; 3) bait the hook and wait for the biggest fish to bite; 4) haul in the net and, through a series of low level threats and promises, prosecute to your heart’s content.

At some point in Donovangate – we may never know exactly when or how -- word of the sting operation got out. One or another of the wired and cooperating FBI “rats” – the aforementioned Nassi and Soucy or some other cowed informant – may have tipped off the big fishes.

Mr. Soucy, wires dangling from all his appendages, made a valiant effort to compromise House Speaker Donovan, who made it fairly plain to Mr. Soucy and FBI agents recording his every word that he had not steered through the General Assembly legislation that could have killed a bill adversely impacting roll-your-own tobacco shops. Mr. Soucy, a union shop steward, had been plying Mr. Donovan with tainted campaign cash collected from tax averse roll-your-own shop owners – and FBI stingers -- in return for his assistance in killing efforts to treat roll-you-own shops as Connecticut treats taxable tobacco manufacturers, thus putting them out of business.      

Even Mr. Braddock spurned the bait. On one of the FBI recorded tapes, the wired Mr. Nassi tells Mr. Braddock that the wired Mr. Soucy told him that the flow of campaign contributions from the smoke shops would stop “unless the thing [the bill taxing smoke shops] were dead,” to which Mr. Braddock responds, “Oh. But there is no quid pro quo. As long as everybody understands that there is no quid pro quo, you know."

The FBI has now rung down the curtain on its show. Mr. Braddock has his honor, and a 38 month sentence.  Mr. Donovan stumbled off the political stage as the FBI was hauling in its net. Possibly Mr. Donovan may rise again from the dead, reincarnated as a union chief or a lobbyist. All the lesser fish copped pleas. The farcical affair produced a sufficient number of sensational stories. And the FBI – which, for some reason known only to the FBI, never spreads its net over suburban towns – continues to prowl urban centers in Connecticut seeking, like Satan, the corruption of men’s souls.

Donovangate is over. The fat lady has sung.

And the takeaway lesson should be this: The attorney general in Connecticut is prohibited from investigating criminal activity. It’s time for Connecticut to re-establish an independent Inspector General Office charged with investigating political corruption and armed with subpoena authority. A Republican majority in the General Assembly created just such a position in 1985, but the post was abolished when Democrats regained control of the legislature in 1986.

Why should FBI federal interlopers have all the fun?

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