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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

A farewell to Tim

Tim Cahill never wants to see Suffolk Superior Court again and no doubt many voters feel the same way about him.

The Saga of Treasurer Tim has ended with a whimper and not a bang, but in the end there is a sense of justice as the Quincy Democrat admitted he inappropriately used public resources in his ill-fated run for governor in 2010.

The admission of a civil offense and an agreement to pay a $100,000 fine -- out of his own pocket and not campaign funds -- is also a vindication of sorts for Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had come under fire for first failing to aggressively attack public corruption and then failing to win the criminal case against Cahill.

The agreement also brings back into focus the 2009 public corruption law passed in the wake of the scandal involving former House Speaker Sal DiMasi. Some, like former Ethics Commissioner George Brown, think the Cahill case and not the law was flawed.
“I think the problem was more, could the attorney general prove the requisite intent? Cahill had a plausible story. … She picked a hard case.”
 But if you can't go after the hard cases isn't there something inherently wrong with the law's structure?

There certainly were shades of gray in the case: lottery and campaign staffs that seemed to be working together tacitly if not openly. But at the core of the case was the fact state-paid commercials touting the lottery miraculously appeared about the same time the Republican Governors Association took off after Cahill.

If that posed such a threat to his good work, why didn't Cahill use campaign funds to pay for the ads? After all, he, not the lottery was under siege. By admitting to a civil offense, the former treasurer now acknowledges the error.

What's become crystal clear with this case, as well as DiMasi's -- is that it is far too hard to hold elected officials responsible for wrongdoing. The legal foundation upon which the DiMasi conviction is based is somewhat shaky, after the Supreme Court redefined the federal crime of bribery.

The ultimate judge and jury for any elected official is the voter. In Cahill's case. they rendered an appropriate verdict in rejecting his effort to become governor.

But there does need to be reasonable standards of ethics and conduct -- and an enforcement mechanism that does not require Herculean leaps -- to hold those officials accountable between elections.

That may be the most important outcome of the Cahill case -- using substantial civil fines and penalties rather than criminal ones -- to uphold the integrity of a system of laws and fallible humans.

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