Three former Massachusetts House speakers have been convicted of felonies, and the most recent remains locked in federal prison for his participation in a bribery scheme. Now Attorney General Martha Coakley has proposed adding a new member to the Beacon Hill felons club with the indictment of Timothy Cahill, the former state treasurer and candidate for governor.
Cahill is reportedly the first statewide politician to be indicted for public corruption in Massachusetts in more than 60 years. But given the legal problems that have afflicted various elected officials in recent years, one member of the Twitterati observed Monday that there seems to be a rule that there must be one of them under indictment at all times.
According to the attorney general, Cahill and others hatched a scheme to use taxpayers' money — your money — to tip the 2010 race for governor in his favor. If he had pulled it off, he'd be the state's chief executive today.
A Suffolk County grand jury this week charged Cahill with corruption, fraud and conspiracy, accusing him of spending $1.5 million in state money to promote the Massachusetts Lottery, which he controlled, as well as his own political fortunes.
In the end, Cahill's alleged scheme was as harebrained as his candidacy for governor.
The Quincy resident, who served as a city councilor before his election as treasurer, ended his decades-long fealty to the Democratic Party to run for governor as an independent in 2010. He claimed he had new ideas that would challenge two-party orthodoxy.
The truth was he knew he couldn't beat Deval Patrick for the Democratic nomination or Charles Baker for the Republican nomination.
His campaign was still going nowhere by the summer of 2010.
According to Coakley, that is when Cahill and others came up with the plan to make you pay to jump-start his campaign with the Lottery ad campaign.
It's hard to believe that Cahill actually thought it would put him in the corner office, especially since the ads could not legally use his name or image.
But what politician can resist the temptation to use the advantages of incumbency for even a slight political gain — whether it's a sign on the highway announcing a road project or the well-timed announcement of a major grant?
Cahill's problem may be that he not only lost the election — he took only 8 percent of the vote — but he also wound up in a nasty dispute with former campaign staffers who blew the whistle on the alleged coordination between the Cahill campaign and the Lottery.
An email trail seems to have backed up the renegade staffers.
According to Coakley, focus groups had indicated that Cahill's management of the Lottery was a winning issue for the treasurer, and Cahill gave the go-ahead for an ad blitz that would begin, not by coincidence, in September 2010.
By November, Cahill was still dead in the water as a candidate, and all he could hope to do was drain enough votes from Baker to re-elect Patrick. In this, he was a success.
Coakley said Cahill put his political ambitions ahead of the public interest, abusing his power and position of trust for personal gain. It is the original sin of politicians. It is what made felons of speakers Charles Flaherty, Tom Finneran and Sal DiMasi.
In the grand scheme of things, and against the historical backdrop of bid-rigging, bribery, electoral tampering and patronage on Beacon Hill, the case against Cahill may not seem like much.
But if the charges are true, Cahill did succumb to the temptation to spend your money for his own ends.
"All elected officials need to be aware there will be greater scrutiny with taxpayer dollars," Coakley said at a press conference announcing Cahill's indictment.
Let's hope so.
Beacon Hill has proven itself to be a target-rich environment for prosecutors, which is a sad commentary on the way business is conducted there.