The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Edmund H. Mahony, The Hartford Courant

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Former Connecticut Gov. John R. Rowland, a political rising star who crashed a decade ago in a corruption scandal, fell again Friday when a jury in federal court found him guilty in a low-rent scheme to collect secret paychecks from rich Republican congressional candidates.

After deliberating about seven hours over two days, the jury convicted the 57-year-old, three-term governor of conspiracy, two counts of falsifying records in order to obstruct an investigation, two counts of causing false reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission and two counts of exceeding campaign contribution limits.

After spending much of his life on billion-dollar government-spending deals — he was first elected a state representative at age 23 and also has served as in Congress — Rowland likely will return to prison for hiding $35,000 in consulting fees from long-shot 2012 candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley.

Rowland was accused of conspiring to violate and obstruct federal campaign reporting laws by concealing his role as a paid consultant in one congressional campaign and trying to obtain a secret paid position advising another.

Rowland’s lead defense lawyer, Reid Weingarten, devoted much of his 90-minute summation Thursday to chipping away at nine days of government evidence. As he concluded, he stopped just short of presenting Rowland as a victim.

“What this case is about is two really, really, really wealthy people who wanted to buy congressional seats, one for himself and one for his wife,” Weingarten said.

Weingarten said Mark Greenberg, the well-to-do real estate investor running for Congress on his own, misrepresented a consulting proposal Rowland made to him for political reasons.

Brian Foley, the owner of a nursing home chain who was supporting the campaign of his wife, Wilson-Foley, misrepresented the consulting agreement he approved and signed with Rowland in a cynical — and successful – attempt to win leniency for himself for criminal behavior of his own that could have sent him to prison for 40 years, Weingarten said.

The government accused Rowland of drafting a phony contract with Mark Greenberg’s 2010 campaign for Congress in the state’s 5th District. Rowland was accused of trying to conceal his role by asking Greenberg to pay him through a nonprofit animal shelter. Greenberg rejected the offer, in part because Rowland wanted nearly $800,000 over more than two years.

Two years later, when Wilson-Foley ran for the same seat, Foley testified that he offered Rowland a similar deal for $5,000. Rowland would be paid as a nursing home consultant while working for the Wilson-Foley campaign.

For months, Foley defended Rowland’s contract with Apple as valid, saying the former governor provided substantial advice to the nursing home chain. But earlier this year, Foley changed his position after agreeing to take a relatively lenient plea bargain agreement with the government in return for cooperating with authorities.

Weingarten argued Thursday that Foley falsely accused Rowland in order to obtain forgiveness from potential obstruction of justice charges he faced and a long list of potential campaign fundraising violations by him and members of his family.

The defense and government disagreed on all points, including why Rowland tried to keep his consulting agreement with Foley a secret.

Rowland had to keep his political work secret, prosecutor Christopher Mattei said, because the bribery conviction that forced him from office in 2004 and later resulted in his imprisonment made him politically toxic. Any candidates who hired him and publicly reported his salary on reports to the Federal Election Commission could expect to have their judgment questioned.

Mattei said Rowland’s most valuable and salable skills were his enormous political skill, his strategic political vision and his intimate knowledge of the state’s 5th Congressional District, where both Greenberg and Wilson-Foley ran. But, he said, Rowland knew he could tank any candidate who hired him.

Photo: Scott* via Flickr

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

Keep reading... Show less

Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

Keep reading... Show less
x
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}