It may be a relatively dry spring so far, but that doesn’t mean there’s no mud to sling.
Two candidates for re-election have come under fire recently for alleged ethics violations. First we have Sheila R. Lyons, incumbent Barnstable County Commissioner, who was been accused by rival candidate Ronald R. Beaty Jr. of accepting campaign donations from individuals who she has interacted with in her official capacity as county commissioner.
First, Mr. Beaty cites on his blog the fact that Ms. Lyons received in December 2011 a $200 donation from Henri S. Rauschenbach, who the county commissioners appointed to co-chair the Special Commission on County Governance.
Important details number one through three: Mr. Rauschenbach was recommended for the special commission by the Cape Cod Business Roundtable, not the county commissioners, who only approved the selection; the donation was made eight months after that appointment; and Mr. Beaty has made his disdain for the special commission very well known and has made a number of efforts to undermine its work.
I’ll also point out that this is a complete 180 from December, when Mr. Beaty publicly showered praise on Ms. Lyons. In an e-mail sent out to Cape media outlets, he called Ms. Lyons a “shining star” and a “pragmatically insightful and pleasant woman who cares deeply about social justice, the welfare of individual Cape Cod residents as well as Barnstable County as a whole.”
Of course, he wasn’t running for Ms. Lyons’ job at the time.
Mr. Beaty further noted that Robert Ciolek, an independent consultant to the Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative, also donated to Ms. Lyons in 2011 — several months after (I repeat: after) he was contracted by the commissioners to serve as the CCWP’s consultant.
Mr. Beaty claims these donations could constitute legal conflicts of interest, but there’s an important piece missing from this equation: did Ms. Lyons derive direct personal financial benefit? There’s nothing to suggest she did, so unless someone can prove otherwise, the claim here falls flat.
(Not that campaign donations for political favors aren’t a real problem, but it’s important to draw a clear distinction between politics as usual, which is unfortunate, and true graft and corruption, which is despicable.)
Ah, but what about the fact that Ms. Lyons last month received a $75,000 bank loan through the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, for which Dorothy A. Savarese serves as president — the same Ms. Savarese who sat on the aforementioned Special Commission on County Governance?
Well, unless Ms. Savarese personally signed or pushed through the loan application, the accusation of a conflict of interest is again hollow.
In the case of Mr. Beaty, he appears to be venting his ire at the special commission and its recommendations — specifically to reformat county government and to explore the creation of a regional wastewater management entity — at Ms. Lyons, perhaps in an attempt to undermine her re-election and prime his own campaign.
Problem is, if these charges cannot be proven and do not result in any sort of official sanction by the state ethics commission, Mr. Beaty’s tactic could backfire.
The same could be said for Brian R. Mannal, who is challenging State Representative Demetrius J. Atsalis (D – Barnstable) in the primary. Mr. Mannal last week filed a formal complaint against Rep. Atsalis with the state ethics commission over an e-mail sent by the incumbent.
That e-mail was sent from Rep. Atsalis’s State House e-mail address to Lee Fisher, former lieutenant governor of Ohio, asking if he remembered Mr. Mannal from his and then-Governor Ted Strickland’s 2006 campaign.
Apparently, Rep. Atsalis was trying to clarify Mr. Mannal’s party loyalties, noting that his opponent was involved in President George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000, later got a gig with the state of Ohio under a Republican administration, and remained a member of the GOP until 2004 (Mr. Mannal has openly admitted to jumping ship to the Democratic Party that year).
Rep. Atsalis acknowledged the e-mail, which he called “innocent,” and said he sent it through his State House e-mail account in error.
Here, an ethics violation might not apply because the e-mail did not have any sort of monetary value attached to it, but the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance does prohibit the use of public resources such as state e-mail accounts for campaign purposes.
It should be noted that Rep. Atsalis already has one official strike from the OCPF. In June 2011 the OCPF fined Rep. Atsalis $3,125 for “numerous recordkeeping and reporting errors” on his campaign finance statements from 2007, which he failed to rectify by 2010. He was also required to practice strict “enhanced reporting requirements” through 2014 or face an additional $2,500 fine.
This brouhaha has a little more legitimacy to it than the Beaty/Lyons kerfuffle, but I think the voters might like to see a little more debate on the issues in the coming weeks rather than back-and-forth accusations of ethical lapses (especially if there is no merit to them).
This coming Tuesday marks the last day for candidates for county and district elected offices to file their nomination papers, and as things stand this week, we’re looking at a rather empty local ballot.
To date only three incumbents have declared opponents: Senate President Therese M. Murray (D – Plymouth), State Representative Randy Hunt (R – Sandwich), and Rep. Atsalis. That leaves State Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D – Harwich) and State Representatives Timothy R. Madden (D – Nantucket), Cleon H. Turner (D – Dennis), and David T. Vieira (R – Falmouth) running unopposed.
There’s also been no buzz for two county seats that are up for grabs this year: the Register of Deeds, a seat currently held by John F. (Jack) Meade, and the Clerk of Courts, now held by Scott W. Nickerson.
Political news and announcements may be e-mailed to Michael Bailey, senior political reporter, at firstname.lastname@example.org.