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OP-ED | We Should Have Seen This Rowland Scandal Coming

by Susan Bigelow | Apr 4, 2014 10:00am
(13) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Campaign Finance, Election 2012, Opinion

Christine Stuart

Rowland frowning through the glass at reporters at WTIC-AM on Tuesday

A familiar kind of summer is coming to Connecticut. The light’s getting stronger, flowers are pushing up from below the ground, and former Gov. John G. Rowland is caught up in a corruption scandal that cost him his job.

I suddenly feel 10 years younger.

We can be forgiven for thinking we’ve seen this play before, but there’s no excuse for acting surprised about it. It’s a little different this time around, but the story is at its heart the same kind of clumsy grab for money as it was in 2004. Instead of misusing the power of his office to get favors in exchange for contracts, among other things, the latest scandal is about Rowland allegedly misusing his afternoon radio show to favor a congressional candidate, Lisa Wilson-Foley, who was circumventing campaign finance laws to pay him.

As of this writing, Rowland has not been charged, but there’s a lot of speculation that it’s only a matter of time. He held on to his radio show for a few days before dropping it on Thursday, and he has thus far refused to comment because he wants to “respect the process.”

That may change quickly as well.

In retrospect, it was pretty clear that something fishy was going on. Mark Greenberg, another Republican who was running against Wilson-Foley, said that Rowland had offered him the same sort of deal — campaign help in return for being paid through an animal shelter operated by Greenberg and his wife. Greenberg turned him down, much to his credit.

Rowland, after making the alleged deal with Wilson-Foley, went on to attack Andrew Roraback, another Republican in that same congressional race, when Roraback was a guest on his radio show. Attorney and watchdog Ken Krayeske filed an FEC complaint against Wilson-Foley for that, but it went nowhere.

Before that, Rowland had a sweet deal with Waterbury (naturally) where he got $350,000 from taxpayers to be an economic development coordinator, although what he actually did for the city is still not all that clear. It’s good to have friends, especially the kind of friends who have access to lots and lots of money and the will to spread it around.

The current allegations and what happened when he was governor are remarkable for how brazen and clumsy they all are. It amazes me that he thought this would all stay hidden. He’s like the Hamburglar of corruption scandals.

It’s fitting, somehow, that the latest Rowland campaign finance scandal blew up during the same week as the latest Supreme Court ruling scrapping campaign contribution limits. This country belongs to rich, powerful, and connected guys like John Rowland. It’s no wonder that a poll done by the libertarian magazine Reason found that 75 percent of respondents believed that politicians are corrupted by campaign donations and lobbyists.

It’s also fitting that this all happened during the same week that legislation rolling back harsher punishments for selling drugs near a school advanced out of the Judiciary Committee. In cities like New Haven, almost the entire land area of the city is within a “drug free zone,” and so pretty much anyone caught dealing even small amounts of drugs in our cities faces mandatory sentences of two to three years.

Rowland served 10 months for cheating an entire state out of its money, for comparison. The system is his friend, even when it’s punishing him.

What we need is the bright sunlight of summer to chase this winter away. On July 1, 2004, I got up early and drove down to Hartford to watch M. Jodi Rell march up the Capitol driveway to become the 87th governor of Connecticut. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. Rell wasn’t a particularly inspiring governor, and there would be other scandals waiting for her, but on that afternoon everything felt clean again.

We need that same summer sun now. John Rowland had a second chance, something a lot of people don’t get, and he’s blown it. Spectacularly. He shouldn’t get another; Connecticut’s politics will be better off without him.

But more than that, we need to stop pretending this sort of thing isn’t constantly happening. The constant corruption scandals of the past few years prove otherwise. We should have seen this coming, but we prefer to turn a blind eye.

We need to stop making excuses for corruption, strengthen what campaign finance and disclosure laws we can, and shine that sunlight everywhere.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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(13) Comments

posted by: redlady | April 4, 2014  12:50pm

Susan plants the seeds of bias against all rich, “This country belongs to rich, powerful, and connected guys like John Rowland.”, being careful to only tie a Republican to that claim.  What she doesn’t seem to want intelligent Nutmeggers to realize:  “rich” crosses party lines as evidenced by the members of her own Democrat Party. No need to use their names - we know who they are. There are a lot smart folks in CT, Susan.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | April 4, 2014  5:22pm

DrHunterSThompson

and when night is over, the sun rises. naive to the highest power. what a waste of space this column is.

HST

posted by: Derek G | April 4, 2014  6:03pm

“This country belongs to rich, powerful, and connected guys like John Rowland.”

I think that the truly rich and powerful guys don’t get caught.  And they certainly don’t bother risking anything for a relatively measly $30,000…they’re the ones who pay wanna-be’s $30,000.  Rowland may still be “connected” in some strange fashion, but even the reason he originally got into trouble was because he was an upper-middle-class-income guy who wanted more stuff than he could afford.  Apparently his WTIC income still didn’t meet his standards (allegedly).

posted by: DestinationPittsburgh | April 4, 2014  6:14pm

Rowland resigned the governorship and went to federal prison.  How gullible are the people to believe a lying thief who claims finding God changed him?  Where were all the amends he should have been making to us?  Instead he buys a big house sets up countless “jobs” gets paid speaking fees and people think he’s changed.  He should have been living and acting like Pope Francis, but he was still being Con John.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | April 5, 2014  7:23am

Redlady, I don’t think that’s fair. This is piece about Rowland and he is, like or not, a Republican. The final two paragraphs are general statements that clearly apply to both parties, if you aren’t reading them with an eye to being partisanly offended. Furthermore, if you’re trying to argue that this country DOESN’T belong to “rich, powerful and connected guys” then you must have an inside track into the medical Mary Jane.

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | April 5, 2014  1:21pm

I agree, Sarah. But we must not be surprised. Check the comments on any media site’s reader forums, and you’ll see many of them not only minimize what Rowland did, but distract from the topic with a “yeah, well, but what about [insert any Democratic politician’s name]?”.

posted by: StanMuzyk | April 5, 2014  7:58pm

Rowland’s divorce began his downfall.  He apparently found difficulty trying to afford to support two families on a high-end lifestyle and fell into a trap trying to make ends meet.

posted by: shinningstars122 | April 6, 2014  8:50am

shinningstars122

@redlady you may feel that this type of name calling is uncomfortable and rude but honestly are you even paying attention?

Politicians of both parties are corrupted by all the dark money, special interests, and SuperPacs that are running the table on both the state and federal levels.

I hate to ruin your Sunday morning but it the wealthy and the corporations that are banking rolling this effort.

Next throw in a SCOTUS that have become the biggest of enablers to systematic dismantling of what little campaign finance reform we do have on the books and then for good measure throw in the do nothing Congress and you have the worst mess our democracy has been in since the Gilded Age.

As for the former Governor he was part of that ” old school” network of graft and take care of your own.

Both are archaic and dysfunctional and need to be attacked on all sides by the voters.

Complacency and denial is not an option for our democracy.

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | April 6, 2014  5:27pm

@StanMuzyk: Rowland “fell into a trap”? Are you kidding? He MADE the trap! He’s just so darned arrogant he never thought he’d get caught in it.

posted by: StanMuzyk | April 6, 2014  10:39pm

@NoNonsense2014;
Rowland “fell into the trap he created for himself.” Desperation forced him to make bad corruption plagued decisions—and he like all people breaking the law, never believed he would be caught.  He screwed up his life.  He danced and must now pay he fiddler.

posted by: redlady | April 7, 2014  5:07am

Actually, Shining, you aren’t allowed to ruin any day for me. My comment wasn’t about whether or not Rowland is corrupt, because he has proven he is. My comment is about journalists and partisan Democrats using the word “rich” to refer to certain portions of American citizens in a manner meant to demonize anyone of affluence on the “other side” of the issues. It happens constantly.  There was no reason for this report to use the word “rich” when the issue is really corruption.

posted by: joemanc | April 7, 2014  1:58pm

Susan - pretty much spot on, almost. I too had a feeling when the news broke that Rowland/Foley were up to something 2 years ago, and I was right. It’s a sad story.

The only thing lacking in this opinion piece, and it’s certainly because of your political leanings, is Malloy, and all of the taxpayer money he has given to businesses of all sizes. You can bet with the past corruption in the governor’s office as well as local offices, that the FBI has his line wired. There’s no way you give away that kind of money without expecting something in return. It’s only a matter of time before he gets snared. He had been previously investigated in Stamford when he was mayor. As the saying goes… “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire”

posted by: StanMuzyk | April 8, 2014  9:26am

@joemanc:  You are entirely correct “What goes around, comes around.”  Malloy may prove that he is the biggest
politically-involved Governor in our history”—
for which taxpayers are already paying for dearly.