MR. SPEAKER IN THE DOCK. The big local news today, of course, is the indictment of former Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Finneran is being charged in connection with his testimony in a redistricting case heard in federal district court.
The most significant thing about the two Boston dailies is how they played it. The Globe led the front with a five-column, two-deck head that reads "Grand Jury Indicts Finneran; Defense May Hinge on Intent." The Finneran story gets number-two placement in the Herald, with a "Tommy Takes It on the Chin" headline in the upper right, next to the nameplate. (The lead, "Hub Beach Shame," is about maintenance woes at Malibu Beach.)
Both papers cover roughly the same ground in their lead stories and sidebars. This would appear to be the best link for all of the Herald's Finneran coverage today; scroll below the lead story for the sidebars. The Globe website links all of its Finneran stuff from its main story.
One other thing worth noting: Globe columnist Brian McGrory is ecstatic over the Finneran indictment. There's not much doubt that the redistricting plan over which Finneran may or may not have presided was a sleazy attempt to protect white incumbents. But that doesn't mean Finneran perjured himself - a very specific offense that, as you will see in other coverage, may be extremely difficult to prove.
I'm more in agreement with this Herald editorial, which, though critical of the redistricting plan, has this to say about the case against Finneran:
In fact, rarely has so much effort been expended to secure an indictment in a case with so little consequence.
This was, after all, not about corruption or about using public office for personal gain. Tom Finneran is no Buddy Cianci. Quite the contrary, he has a reputation for rectitude that has bordered on the stiff-necked.
Indeed, based on what we know so far, I hope Finneran beats the rap.
Hey, Al Capone went to jail for tax evasion. If they can get a man who spent 20 years (and especially the past 9 or so) circumventing democracy (Clean Elections law? What's that?) and treating the Commonwealth as his own personal playground to finally serve some time and have a felony rap sheet, I don't really care which crime they nail him for.
And don't say the voters should have decided whether he was corrupt or not -- he came from a tiny electorate, and wielded power over the entire state, in direct opposition to the will of the majority. Just because we have a flawed system that gave him virtually unlimited power doesn't mean he should get away with abusing it.
Perjury? Obstruction? Sure, whatever. I'll take it.
Sad thing is this will turn into a conservative vs. liberal tit for tat, a la "Watergate begat Clinton impeachment begat DelayWatch, etc., etc." Andrea Cabral should watch her back. "New Boston" pols don't have deep roots or institutional memory, both needed when someone is required to "stand up" for a politician being investigated. Other than skin complexions, little has changed.
Say, does this blog have an RSS feed? I'd like to subscribe to it in my newsreader.
Sorry, Dan, I agree with McGrory and island_earth. And it will be a lot easier to convict Tommy in federal court than it might have been at the state level. Federal judges don't like being lied to by power (as they made clear in the original decision, and as they also made clear in the succession of Whitey Bulger/FBI cases.)
And it is nice to know, in the age of Bush, that there is still a consequence for overreaching arrogance, which of course was Tommy's real offense.
"Overreaching arrogance" is not a crime. Neither is lying, for that matter, unless you can show that it constituted perjury - a very specific, narrowly drawn offense.
Island Earth says that Finneran "circumvented democracy" with respect to the Clean Elections law. That he did, and he deserved to be criticized for that, even voted out of office. But he did not circumvent the law or either the federal or state constitution in croaking Clean Elections.
Sorry, but a couple of comments here come disturbingly close to We don't like Finneran, so let's lock him up.
Hi Dan, I agree with you on this. Some of these posts and public comments scare me. So Finneran is a jerk, therefore even if he didn't perjure himnself, screw him. Scary stuff. And when you think of it, Finneran is disliked because he exercised his legal authority and used legal political skills to pass and defeat legislation he favored. And because people begrudged himn for that when they didn't agree with the policy he favored, such as publicly funded campaigns, he should go to jail on the Al Capone theory.
Scary stuff in a democracy.
Question: Why is Finneran bad guy for legislatively and legally blocking publicly funded campaigns when legislature is good for cancelling tax rollback. Both were wanted by thge people but only Finneran is viewed as evil.
With no judgment on the former Speaker's culpability in this matter his direct sheparding of Celucci into the Governor's Office, and the lineage therefrom, ought not go unpunished.
So Dan Kennedy hopes Finneran "beats the rap". Really? Even if he's guilty? Let's compromise here. If he committed perjury he should be convicted; if he didn't he should go free.
And "based on what we know" it seems like he was under oath when he said things that aren't true. That may not be everything you need for a perjury conviction, but it's a good start.
I've always had a perverse fascination with Dan Kennedy, the quick change artist. One minute he's casually sliming someone. (this week it was NPR and the BBC.) The next minute he's Mr Morally Superior, so upset that us ruffians are debasing democracy by wishing our adversaries ill.
But Dan, you're right "overreaching arrogance" is not a crime. Lucky you.
This issue is about providing minority voters with their fair share of political representation.
According to the indictment, the most powerful figure in the state attempt to deceive the courts on this issue.
How can anyone think this is not an important enough to bring the weight of the court down upon Finneran.
Not to mention that as a lawyer he is more the aware that the court system depends on truthfulness.
I'm mixed about this. Finneran is a creep and a political thug; he was the lowest form of political slime in the state for a very long time. In my mind, there is nothing worse than a two-bit state Rep. acting like a banana republic dictator and then laughing wildly while he was squashing "the little people." Although he hasn't been convicted, it is pretty clear what Finneran did from evidence presented so far: He gerrymandered the redistricting to protect himself and his cronies, and hampered efforts to be fair and create minority districts. He then lied about it and perjured himself, which is why he was indicted. Had he just been the puke that he has always been and brazenly said, "Yeah, I did it. So what?" nothing would be happening to him. He wouldn't have lied.
I'm glad that Sullivan took this move to attempt to punish Finneran because this kind of behavior shouldn't be allowed.
It is similar to the Clinton thing. We all knew - deep down, no pun intended - that he was using Monica as a relief valve, no matter how much he denied it. When he met with the teachers and said, paraphrasing, 'I'm going to say this one more time, I did not have sex with Miss Lewinsky,' to the cheering throngs of the NEA, I laughed and fell right off the couch! It was such a hilariously awful lie. And then, he lied under oath like a stupid fool. He should have been man enough to admit what he was doing it - or not done it at all - and he would have escaped. Instead, he lied and perjured himself. And that shouldn't be accepted.
It is the same with Finneran. When this whole redistricting thing started, I was watching the process, went to one of the hearings, and also tracked the State House News Service stories. It was clear what was going to happen. The public process was a sham. Finneran would protect his own.
However, 20 years for Finneran for a perjury rap? That seems a little harsh, even as much as I loath Democrats like Finneran. On the average, as we have all seen on MBTA billboards, rapists get 3.5 years! "King" Tom, Tommie "Taxes," is a thug and a liar and should be made an example of; but he doesn't deserve 20 years. Does he?
I like the Al Capone reference; probably has a lot of reference here.
The problem is not that Finneran is "innocent" or "guilty" under our systmem of law. The problem is that Finneran, like so many politicians of our day, has put himself in a situation where most of the law cannot reach him. Is perjury a stretch? Yeah, probably. Is going after Finneran for it sort of "wrong"? Yeah, probably. But the law is not about right or wrong. The law is about accountability.
Put simply (perhaps too simply) if you kill someone, you go to jail. Ergo, that knowledge of accountability is what keeps you from killing someone. Of course, for many murders that knowledge isn't enough, hence why the system is rather flawed.
Similarly...long-term, repeated abuse of power of office isn't a crime (not explicitly, anyway) but it certainly is "wrong". Even a third grader knows that. But the law is not about "wrong".
So we have the unfortunate situation of a man who is doing "wrong" but he is not doing a "crime".
Worse, we have this man who has systematically removed any trace of accountability from his actions outside of the criminal justice system. In other words, the safeguards against "wrong" in office...namely checks and balances, elections, and perhaps term limits...were rendered entirely moot by Finneran's power.
Christ, Buddy Cianci was repeatedly re-elected as a convicted felon! You REALLY think Finneran was ever going to be "voted out of office"?
If accountability for his "wrongs" could only be achieved through the perjury indictment...I'll live with the little irregularities.
Abuse of poer is when a police officer fabricates a story so as to arrest someone. Whean a legislator exercises the power given to him that is not abiuse of powerr.
All of this boils down to the transparency that we as constituents are entitled to from government officials.
What Watergate, Irangate, Finnerangate and a host of other would-be conspiracies big and small have in common is that those in charge took extreme measures to hide, deceive or deny telling the public the truth in clear and simple terms.
I am not in position to judge whether Finneran perjured himself. But it's clear that he is just the latest in a long line of officials to face the wrath of a public fed up with the lack of visibility into the workings of those who are purported to represent us.
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