After a second former state official was sentenced to prison this month, state officials are calling for lifetime disqualification from office for public officials guilty of corruption.
On March 18, former Republican Gov. John Rowland was sentenced to 30 months in jail after facing a maximum sentence of 57 years in prison on counts that included conspiracy, obstructing justice and falsifying documents. Five days earlier, former state Sen. Ernie Newton was sentenced to six months in prison for violating campaign finance laws. Rowland’s sentence came a decade after he was first sentenced to prison for corruption, while Newton’s sentence follows his 2005 sentencing for charges of bribery, mail fraud and tax evasion.
The day after Rowland’s sentencing, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch wrote a letter to the General Assembly Judiciary Committee encouraging them to strengthen laws that crack down on public corruption. General Assembly Judiciary Co-Chairman William Tong agreed to lead an effort to pass more legislation combating public corruption in the state, according to a Sunday press release from the city of Bridgeport.
“Public corruption isn’t a victimless crime,” Finch’s letter read. “Now more than ever, we need to take action against public corruption at the state level.”
Tong’s new initiative is expected to follow the three-pronged approach laid out in Finch’s letter, said Bridgeport city spokesman Brett Broesder. Legislation would remove all corrupt politicians from the pension roll, create stronger state laws and penalties against corrupt politicians and implement a lifetime ban for politicians convicted of corruption from running for public office.
The legislative initiative will have a hearing with the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks, Broesder added.
“Unfortunately, state laws against public corruption aren’t doing enough to dissuade politicians from harming taxpayers,” Broesder said in an email to the News. “But that could change.”
In September, a jury in federal court found Rowland guilty of secretly collecting campaign-consulting fees from congressional candidates. Rowland was allegedly paid $35,000 to work on the failed 2012 congressional bid of Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley. The former governor conspired to hide these payments through a consulting contract with Apple Rehab, a nursing home company owned by her husband, Brian Foley SPH ’81.
Both Wilson-Foley and her husband pled guilty.
Prosecutors also accused Rowland of trying to strike a similar deal in 2010 with another failed GOP congressional candidate, Mark Greenberg. Rowland’s actions were found to be in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which limits financial influence in the election of candidates for federal office.
In a press release after Rowland’s sentencing, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gustafson said it was disheartening that an individual who once held public office and had previously been convicted of a federal crime “chose to deceive voters and violate laws that were established to ensure fair and open elections.”
In the formal sentencing request, federal prosecutors condemned Rowland for not learning from his previous transgressions, adding that the court’s sentence should ensure that the people of Connecticut are relieved from further harm.
Both Rowland and Newton were among the state politicians cited by U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly as reasons that law enforcement agencies created the Connecticut Public Corruption Task Force in February. The Task Force aims to investigate allegations of corruption.
Eight states currently have a disqualification law that prevents officials convicted of corruption from returning to office, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.