A former Connecticut governor is currently under indictment by a federal jury, bringing the state’s anticorruption system into question.
John Rowland, who was elected as governor for a record three four-year terms from 1995 to 2004, allegedly solicited congressional campaigns to secretly hire him as a consultant. Rowland, a former Republican congressman, asked Republican candidates Mark Greenberg in 2010 and Lisa Wilson-Foley in 2012 to hire him. Both candidates ran and lost in Rowland’s old fifth district seat. He has been indicted under seven charges, including conspiracy and two counts of falsifying records to thwart a federal investigation. The charges come just 10 years after he was convicted of corruption in another investigation, a case that forced him to resign as governor.
Last March, Wilson-Foley and her husband Brian Foley admitted that her campaign paid Rowland $35,000 for political consulting by labeling the money an expense for Foley’s health care company, according to indictment documents.
“This is another sad chapter in a story that Connecticut knows all too well,” said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Governor Dannel Malloy, in a statement last week. “Law enforcement should be commended for their diligence on this matter. Governor Malloy hopes for a quick resolution.”
Rowland had previously served 10 months in prison after the investigation in 2004 that forced him to resign, which showed he had received gifts from state contractors.
For this reason, Rowland acknowledged that he had to “stay under the radar as much as possible” in helping Wilson-Foley two years ago, since her campaign rivals at the time included an FBI agent who had pursued Rowland’s 2004 case, according to an email from Rowland published in plea documents.
“We’ve been down this road with John Rowland before, and I think it’s an embarrassment,” said Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director of Common Cause Connecticut, an organization that advocates governmental transparency.
Quickmire said the state reevaluated its anticorruption measures and passed stricter campaign finance and disclosure laws after Rowland’s resignation and eventual imprisonment in 2004.
She said the Republican governor who followed Rowland, Jodi Rell, worked with the legislature to address corruption.
“I am glad to see that we take prosecuting these crimes seriously in this state,” Quickmire said. “We did learn a lot from 2005, but apparently [Rowland] didn’t learn quite as much as he needed to.”
Common Cause has been advocating recently for tighter campaign finance rules, which Quickmire said have been loosened in the last session.
“The public deserves to know who’s spending money on candidates,” she said.
Greenberg, who came forward two years ago to publicly reveal Rowland’s proposal to help with his campaign, is now running for Congress again and will likely receive GOP nomination.
His campaign manager, Bill Evans, wrote in a statement to the News that the candidate has offered up all information he knows about Rowland and is confident in the U.S. Attorneys office to handle the case.
Evans added that Greenberg’s campaign message has not and will not change in the aftermath of the indictment.
“Mark believes that the system is broken and that too many people have lost faith in Washington D.C.,” Evans wrote. “Corruption on either side of the aisle is unacceptable.”
Robert Wechsler, the director of research for the City Ethics blog and former administrator of the New Haven Democracy Fund, a public campaign-financing program, agreed that institutional corruption can lead voters to lose trust in government.
He cited the fact that around 30 to 40 percent of registered voters in Connecticut are unaffiliated with a party and therefore cannot vote in a primary as evidence that people no longer feel loyal to either party.
However, Wechsler said Connecticut had one of the better transparency programs in the country.
“It could be improved, like everything,” he said. “But we have good campaign finance rules and good ethics at the state level. And it was because of the whole Rowland thing that public financing was finally embraced.”
Jury selection for the trial will begin June 10.