The Download: Brown’s DiMasi diversion

US Sen. Scott Brown doesn’t want to talk about Osama bin Laden. He does, however, have plenty to say about the disgraced former speaker of the House, Sal DiMasi.

DiMasi is currently standing trial in a federal courthouse on corruption charges. Brown, the legislative backbencher-turned-rockstar, is running for reelection. Therefore, Brown has some advice for the graduates of Lasell College in Newton: Elect Republicans, because a government overrun by Democrats is a crooked government.

With Brown sporting the first bloody nose of his Senate career, he used a weekend commencement speech to attack Beacon Hill as arrogant and corrupt. It’s the sort of forum Brown favors – one-way and headline-making. And his target certainly seems inviting enough.

The monopolization of power inside the State House is a frequent Republican campaign message. Mitt Romney sank Shannon O’Brien in 2002 by warning about the dangers of a “gang of three” Democrats running Beacon Hill. Romney’s running mate, Kerry Healey, trotted out the same line four years later, during her unsuccessful run against Deval Patrick. Charlie Baker’s campaign dropped the gang-related rhetorical flourishes, but it, too, hammered away at one-party rule. Brown isn’t saying much new here – he’s just tossing DiMasi’s federal corruption charges into a familiar complaint.

The House Republican caucus called Brown’s argument that one-party rule breeds corruption “poignant.” But there’s a good deal of history, both locally and in Washington, that says the link between corruption and political affiliation can be tenuous.

Democrats outnumber Republicans on Beacon Hill, so they tend to get in trouble in proportion to their numbers. And while the streak of three straight House speakers getting hit with federal indictments is an impressive one, Dems don’t have the market cornered on political misbehavior. Adding Dianne Wilkerson and Chuck Turner and Anthony Galluccio and Jim Marzilli and John Buonomo to DiMasi’s coterie creates quite the streak for the state’s dominant political party. But they’re not alone. Republican appointees to the Turnpike Authority oversaw plenty of Big Dig bilking. A Republican treasurer missed an epic $9.4 million inside job that put the Brinks robbery to shame. Although the 1980 Ward Commission maintained that political corruption was a way of life in Massachusetts, there are plenty of recent Washington mug shots that show political corruption at large is a fiercely bipartisan affair.

It’s becoming clear that Brown’s brain trust is going to make sleaze-by-association-with-Beacon-Hill a staple of its campaign talking points. When asked about Brown’s recent bin Laden photo gaffe, the senator’s spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, reflexively invoked the DiMasi trial. When Rep. Thomas Conroy, a would-be Senate challenger, painted Brown’s handling of the photo episode as an example of Brown acting “too cavalier, on the edge of recklessness,” Fehrnstrom immediately reminded Conroy that he’d voted to reelect DiMasi as speaker, just weeks before a criminal investigation forced the North End power-broker’s resignation. And Fehrnstrom certainly knows how to change the subject. Today’s headlines aren’t about the League of Women Voters. They’re about Sal DiMasi. 

                                                                                                                                                                                –PAUL MCMORROW    


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