Nursing home magnates Brian Foley and Lisa Wilson-Foley caught a nasty case of affluenza in politics. The wealthy couple spread some of their fortune around in places it shouldn't have gone. That brought them to a federal courtroom last week to plead guilty to conspiring with disgraced former Gov. John G. Rowland to violate federal campaign finance laws during Wilson-Foley's failed 2012 congressional bid for the open 5th District Congressional seat.
What a mess they made when, according to a document released by federal law enforcement officials Tuesday, Brian Foley agreed in the fall of 2011 to listen to an idea Rowland had about Wilson-Foley's campaign. The underhanded trio contrived to have Rowland work secretly on the campaign in exchange for $5,000 a month, paid behind the scenes, from Foley's nursing home empire.
Others were involved. A Foley business lawyer must be nervous about his fate as the scandal unfurls and he seems to have abetted the violation of campaign finance laws. Former Republican state party chairman Christopher Healy acknowledged to The Courant on Tuesday night that he is probably the political adviser unflatteringly portrayed in the document that accompanied the plea agreements.
A decade ago, Healy and his supporters mounted a brave challenge to Rowland's control of the party organization as an exploding bribery scandal engulfed the three-term governor. Many people in the inner ring of state politics were hoping last week that Healy knew nothing of the criminal details. Healy says he was deceived by the conspirators, but he had enough experience with Rowland to know that there was plenty of stink coming out of his agreement with his paymaster, Wilson-Foley.
From the time Rowland's association with the Foleys was exposed in 2012 until Tuesday, the plutocrat Foleys and their minions dismissed the notion that Rowland had been anything other than a valuable consultant to the lucrative Foley nursing home operation. The federal information accompanying the Foley pleas makes it clear that the Foleys blithely lied about the nature of their relationship with Rowland.
Campaign finance statutes are not a collection of suggestions. They are the law and require adherence no matter how rich the candidate. Wilson-Foley campaign officials could have hired Rowland, but they knew the stigma that would attach to having fees paid to the felonious radio host disclosed in campaign finance reports. Rowland knew it. He's been around campaign finance laws and procedures for more than 30 years.
The Foleys made their deal, and it required them to rat out Rowland and refute their earlier public claims. Each Foley faces a year in prison, the maximum for a misdemeanor. Given how other federal campaign finance violators have been sentenced in Connecticut, the Foleys should do some jail time. Don't be surprised if they slip that noose. The rich find other ways.
What continues to astound is Rowland. He spent nearly a year incarcerated in 2005. It ought to have made an impression.
You only have to drive by a prison to get a sense of what a grim place it is. Go inside and abandon hope as the first steel door slams behind you. Inmates are released to a world of narrow prospects. For most, life after prison is dire in a pitiless world. Families have often been alienated and friendships ended by the acts that send a convict to jail.
Rowland enjoyed a different experience. His friends and supporters rallied round him in various ways. His wife and children appear to have stood by him. He was able to support himself. That was the rare convict experience.
Most convicts want no public attention after their release. Not Rowland. He attempted to turn his conviction and humiliation into a platform to make money telling a story of redemption. That always seemed suspect. Nevertheless, after a few years, Rowland found a way to insert himself into public life through a radio show on powerhouse WTIC. (Boy, do they have some explaining to do.)
None of that was enough. The federal case against the Foleys revealed that Rowland would initiate and take staggering risks with his liberty for $5,000 a month. He said Wednesday that he would not comment on events because he respects the process. Tuesday's revelations prove he disdains it, and it will cost him again.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.