The Boston Globe ran an investigative article on Saturday that could prove devastating to Rep. John Tierney in his race for re-election. In “Questions Raised About Tierney’s Disclosures,” Michael Rezendez reported:
Officials with three nonpartisan open-government groups said this week that the House Committee on Ethics should investigate whether U.S. Representative John F. Tierney was required to publicly disclose more than $200,000 that his wife received while managing a bank account with money that came from her brother’s illegal gambling business.
Tierney, an eight-term Democrat locked in a tough re-election fight, has not listed the money on financial disclosure forms that members of Congress file annually, asserting that the money was a gift from a relative and therefore exempt from federal reporting requirements.
Federal disclosure laws require members of Congress to disclose the source of income received by a spouse, but not gifts from a relative.
“It was a gift to my wife, so it was not income; it was not reportable,” Tierney said during a July 3 press conference.
But the watchdog groups said a strong argument can be made that the money Patrice Tierney received was income, not a gift, and that the account she managed on behalf of her brother, Robert Eremian, should have been disclosed as an asset.
“The whole situation raises serious questions about compliance with the spirit of the law and the ethical obligations of members of Congress,” said Stephen Spaulding, staff counsel at Common Cause, a nonpartisan group that advocates for open government. “Certainly one would want to err on the side of disclosure and not get into hair-splitting when it comes to ethical obligations.”
Tierney’s self-defense has been to plead ignorance about his family’s illegal gambling operation, despite his brothers-in-law saying that he knew everything. His argument that he was clueless reminds me of a court case where a woman was on trial for embezzlement. She argued she wasn’t guilty because she had multiple personalities and one of them must have done it without her knowledge. The judge said the other personalities should have noticed the new house and luxury cars.
The congressman has painted himself into a corner in trying to rationalize his innocence. He is either incompetent, deceitful or delusional. None of those things are considered qualifications to hold public office.
For this election, Tierney has become what GOP congressional candidate Jeff Perry was for the 2010 race — a burden for his party. During that campaign I criticized Perry for his various scandals — like failing to report a friend and fellow police officer, who later went to prison, for illegal strip-searches of young teenage girls — and warned that if GOP candidates endorsed him it would undermine their credibility. Charlie Baker, GOP candidate for governor, appeared at a campaign event for Perry shortly after a strip-search victim went public against Perry — and with that action Baker lost any hope for momentum in the final days.
Will Elizabeth Warren and other state Democrats continue to actively support Tierney, despite three nonpartisan watchdog groups calling on the U.S. House to investigate him? For Warren, in particular, it could be tricky. Her claim to fame as a consumer advocate was demanding transparency and disclosure. Will she apply that standard to a fellow Democratic candidate?
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid for automated robocalls attacking Tierney’s opponent, former state Sen. Richard Tisei, citing a Boston Phoenix story which said that old civil actions against Tisei’s parents are similar to the recent felony conviction of Tierney’s wife. But apparently other Boston media don’t believe that the sins of the father should be visited upon the son — an argument that may be familiar to older Democrats because it was made on behalf of John F. Kennedy when he ran for president.
Tierney continues to serve on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. If he is investigated by the House for failure to disclose illicit income, he might be too busy defending himself to investigate fraud and abuse by other public servants. Perhaps then he’d realize that voters shouldn’t have to gamble on a congressman’s integrity — they should be assured of it by his complying with the letter and spirit of disclosure laws.
Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.