Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meet the New Treasurer... Same as the Old Treasurer

A Back to the Future type headline on the front page of the Globe today: "Grossman taps donors with state business."  It seems the Commonwealth's investigative reporter cadre, who might have worried about a lack of subject matter with the passing into the political afterlife of the ethically-challenged Tim Cahill, can rest easy.  It is business as usual at the Treasury under Cahill's successor, new Treasurer Steve Grossman. 

The lengthy article could, with a simple name change, be easily mistaken for an eight year retrospective on questionable campaign finance practices under Cahill.  All the usual suspects are there:  Scientific Games, the lottery contractor at the center of a 2008 Cahill scandal, are there for Grossman (via the Democratic State Committee) to the tune of $22,500.  He hit up liquor wholesalers, who are overseen by the Treasurer-supervised Liquor Control Board ($7,500); out of state law firms that seeking fat pension fund contracts ($20,000).  It's enough to make one wonder if Cahill passed along his copy of "Questionable Fund Raising for Dummies" along with the office keys.

Astute readers have by now noted that the large sums listed above far exceed the $500 individual contribution limit that is the law here in Massachusetts.  How was Grossman able to rake in such sums?  Easy - he just washed the dollars at the Democratic State Committee Laundromat. Globe:
State Treasurer Steven Grossman, who won election last fall on a platform of transparency and reform, personally solicited campaign donations for the state Democratic Party last year from lawyers and executives of firms that now have business before him, seek treasury work, or are regulated by his office.  In turn, Grossman received hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial support from the party.
To be clear, this is not illegal.  It isn't "transparent" either.  Nor does it represent "reform."  It is business as usual (Governor Patrick gets around the $500 limit by doing the same thing).  And yes, Republicans do it too. They just aren't quite so overtly hypocritical about it.  There is a significant distinction, too, when it comes to the office of the Treasurer.  Because his office is responsible for doling out so many multi-million (even multi-billion) dollar contracts, his fund raising correctly comes in for greater scrutiny.  "Pay to play" has for years been the practice at the Treasury.  It seems that practice continues.

Of course Grossman denies any connection between his aggressive fund raising for the party and his official duties.  "Nobody should have any illusion that they would get special treatment from Steve Grossman for contributions to my campaign or the Democratic Party," he told the Globe.  To which a state contractor who just ponied up five figures in response to a Grossman ask might truthfully agree, "there's no illusion about it, pal." 

To anyone out there still trusting enough to give a Massachusetts pol the benefit of the doubt, a few pieces of what might be called circumstantial evidence:

Grossman raised big dollars for the state party last year, and the party spent over $700K on his behalf.  Suzanne Bump, the state auditor candidate, raised nothing for the party and had nothing spent on her behalf.

“There was no explicit, ‘You help us, we will return the favor,’ ’’ said state Democratic Party chairman John Walsh.

But some of the biggest bills — $620,000 the party gave to Grossman’s media consultant, Joe Slade White & Co. — were paid about the same time the donations were deposited into the party’s account.
Here is perhaps the most damning piece of evidence (again Globe):
Attorneys at a law firm that has been seeking state pension fund work, Barrack, Rodos & Bacine of Philadelphia, donated $20,000 to the state party at Grossman’s request. Grossman said that Leonard Barrack, the lead partner in the firm, is a longtime friend who worked with him in Jewish philanthropy and Democratic Party fund-raising. Grossman said he had no knowledge of the firm’s interest in contracting with the state pension fund board, which he chairs. But he was adamant that the donations and his relationship with Barrack will make no difference in his decision-making.
 So Treasurer Grossman would have you believe that: (a) his "longtime friend," who resides in Pennsylvania, felt compelled to give $20,000 to the Massachusetts Democratic Party at Grossman's request; but (b) did not give so much as a dime directly to his pal Steve; and (c) it never occurred to Grossman that this odd state of friendship affairs arose from the direct legal prohibition against a pension fund contractor contributing directly to a candidate for Treasurer? 

Come now.  Seriously? 

All of this happened well before Grossman took office and then shortly thereafter took delivery of a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking documents about Tim Cahill's fund raising practices.  One imagines that as he reviewed that subpoena, Treasurer Grossman's thoughts ran something along these lines:

"Oh crap."

1 comment:

  1. Begs the question:
    If he will launder money through the state and federal Democratic Committees, does his high-volume, low-margin envelope business do the same?
    Are we to believe "I lied then but I'm not lying now?"
    Does the end justify the means?


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