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Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 4/17/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

COMMENTARY

Zealous prosecutors worse than shady pols

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Between stints in Toledo, I lived with my family in Connecticut for 25 years. There I occasionally covered John Rowland, thrice elected governor of the state.

Well, Rowland had to resign as governor, and wound up going to federal prison. He was convicted of taking gifts and favors from influence peddlers. He did hard time — nearly a year.

It was sad. The guy had been a rising GOP star, a congressman at 27 and governor at 37. But he was also human — funny, unpretentious, and the only politician I ever met who seemed genuinely interested in his children.

He wasn’t a bad governor, either. He was a moderate Republican who championed the state university, yet he also held the line on public sector spending.

After he got out of the slammer, John Rowland became a skillful and popular radio host.

A few days ago, Rowland resigned that job. He was then indicted in federal court on seven counts of violating campaign finance laws.

What did he do this time?

The accusation is that, when doing political consulting work, he and his two clients tried to disguise his labors as a political business services rendered.

Rowland faces 57 years in prison. This is ludicrous.

If Rowland must do his business in shadows, what is that to anyone? A government that criminalizes politics is worse than a politician who keeps his current hustle covert.

Rowland’s sins seem small compared to the Cromwellian zeal of federal prosecutors — Ken Starr, chronicler of Bill Clinton’s sex life being, manifestly, the creepiest.

I am sure the feds know the law and have built a solid case. But it’s bad law. If we put every pol who ever took a concert ticket or an airplane ride in jail, we shall have to build even more prisons.

Which brings me to the thousands of dollars Mike Bell and his top staff spent on food, drink, gas, and, my favorite, flowers. And to Mayor Mike Collins’ banning of city credit cards.

Maybe you think I’m going to say the Bell administration’s abuse of plastic was no big deal. That it doesn’t matter.

I’m not. I think it was an abuse. I don’t know how public officials can spend that much money partying hearty on the public dime when thousands of Toledoans, many of them children, go to bed hungry at night.

I think Mr. Collins’ credit card ban — and especially his own example — is laudable. Mr. Collins buys his own gas. How many mayors do that? The man is incorruptible.

But I am saying Mr. Bell’s sense of entitlement in this instance does not negate the good things he has done. Not every corrupt deed rises to the level of criminality, and not every folly rises to the level of corruption. The Founders knew this. We have forgotten. As Sen. Eugene McCarthy used to say: “If you purify the pond, the lilies die.”

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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