Last week had to be an excruciating one for Republicans in Connecticut. As the Grand Old Party gears up for a race against a vulnerable Democratic incumbent governor, the specter of investigations hangs over the Capitol City like a New Year’s Day hangover.
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, (a busy day packed with committee hearings), federal agents descended on the Legislative Office Building — a familiar haunt by now — and gave a thorough grilling to Republican lawmakers who might know anything about a legislative staff member and a Florida printing company that produces campaign material.
As the Courant’s Kevin Rennie aptly observed, it has got to be terribly humbling when outsiders march into the workplace of the political class, disrupt the day of privileged lawmakers, and ask them questions they would no sooner lie on a bed of nails than answer.
If you follow politics, you know the layers of government that comprise our great nation have a distinct pecking order. Municipal officials are looked down upon by county officials, who are in turn made to feel inferior by state officials (you can eliminate the county layer in Connecticut since we were wise enough to eliminate it in 1960).
As someone who has witnessed firsthand the arrogance of state government toward locals, I must say that it gives me great pleasure to see the staties get their comeuppance when the blue-suited feds arrive, waving their badges and legal papers and demanding answers from irked lawmakers who until then had been lords of the manor.
The very next day, George Gallo, the longtime House Republicans chief of staff and a former state party chairman, resigned after determining that he was a “person of interest” after the grilling he and others had received at the hands of the FBI.
Then out came the subpoenas on Friday. The documents, which requested letters, emails, text messages, contracts and invoices, made it clear the probe was targeting the House Republicans — and perhaps one GOP senator. The words “Democrat” or “Democratic” were nowhere to be found.
On the same day that Gallo resigned, we learned that a key witness in the federal probe of convicted felon and former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Brian Foley, a wealthy former owner of the Connecticut Pride basketball team, has agreed to testify if the feds decide to go after Rowland for campaign reporting violations.
You may recall that Foley also owns a nursing home business that paid Rowland $30,000 for a “consulting” gig, while Foley’s wife, Lisa Wilson-Foley, was running for the 2012 Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District.
The feds’ suspicion is that Foley’s payment to Rowland was really a back-door way of compensating the former governor for helping his wife’s campaign. If so, the arrangement would be a concealment of campaign expenditures and violation of federal law.
Rowland’s legal problem is compounded by a serious ethical breach. From his perch as afternoon drive-time host on WTIC-AM, Rowland blasted one of Wilson-Foley’s Republican rivals, former state Sen. Andrew Roraback, without disclosing during the interview his financial arrangement with her husband.
It all adds up to trouble for the Republicans as they head into gubernatorial and legislative races this fall. The demise of Gallo, a close confidant, must have been a devastating blow to House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, who last year had considered running for governor but had to answer for his own ethical problems.
As it did almost two years ago, the New Haven Register called last week on WTIC to fire Rowland. And the left-wing media watchdog Media Matters recently took Rowland’s ethical problems national by reporting extensively on his misdeeds.
Democrats are hardly gloating since memories of their own relatively recent brush with the feds are still fresh. Where is former House Speaker Chris Donovan when you need him?
Still, most of the electorate suffers from an attention deficit and won’t remember Ray Soucy and the guys at the roll-your-own tobacco circus, which augurs poorly for the GOP. Presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley, whose only scandal is his big mouth, must be feeling a tad uncomfortable, and so is distancing himself from the trouble in his own party. When asked by CTNewsJunkie about Direct Mail Systems, the Florida printing company at the center of the federal inquiry, Foley said he had hired them briefly in 2010:
“They didn’t perform very well so we stopped using them.”
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Salisbury, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. He has appeared on Rowland’s show several times. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.