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Joan Vennochi

Baker’s dance on donations

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / October 14, 2010

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CHARLIE BAKER and the Republican Governors Association are starting to look a lot like “Dirty Dancing’’ tango partners. Very tight.

During a recent sit-down at the Globe, independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill mentioned that Jack Connors, the legendary Boston advertising executive, “called me and said, ‘Charlie Baker asked me to raise $100,000 for the RGA.’ ’’

In other words, Baker, the Republican candidate for governor, personally sought contributions for the group that is spending millions on scathing ads in Massachusetts. First aimed at Cahill, the ads now target Governor Deval Patrick.

Asked about it, Connors said, “Cahill is right. If you are asking whether Charlie solicited money from me or anyone else for the RGA, the answer is, he did. I did not raise any money. Other people did. ’’ Connors — a stand-up guy who honestly answered a question others would duck — declined further comment and said he was sorry he had taken my call.

By law, a candidate can’t coordinate advertising content with outside groups like the RGA.

Asked about Baker’s fundraising, a campaign spokesman sent this statement: “Governor Patrick makes fundraising phone calls raising money for the Democratic Party just as Charlie Baker raises money for the Republican Party. Any paid media coordination between either the Patrick or Baker campaigns and their respective party organizations is strictly forbidden by law.’’

The meaning of “coordination’’ is best left to experts who specialize in campaign finance law.

But Baker’s fundraising raises this question: Would he be doing that for an organization that wasn’t getting ready to spend money to help him?

It’s not our ad, Baker said, every time the RGA launched another ad blitz. Technically it wasn’t.

But Baker personally asked people to donate money to the outfit launching attack ads; and he asked them last spring, when the first anti-Cahill ads were broadcast.

Paul Loscocco, the treacherous running mate who abandoned Cahill, belatedly accused Patrick and Cahill advisers of colluding with the Democratic Governors Association. He offered no specific evidence and both campaigns denied it.

Perhaps this sounds like inside baseball, of scant concern to voters worried about jobs and a shaky economy. But, for all candidates, it’s about honesty. If Baker loses, it’s also about really bad strategy.

If Patrick wins, the Baker campaign obsession with Cahill should be cause for serious second-guessing.

He wanted a two-man race. He got one, with Cahill, not Patrick. The RGA advertising blitz weakened Cahill, but it also gave him stature he wouldn’t have, if ignored. Meanwhile, Patrick, an incumbent with plenty of weaknesses, scampered out of Baker’s reach.

Why the Cahill fixation? This is what happens when candidates listen to consultants who see politics as a battle plan that automatically shifts from state to state.

The RGA sees parallels between the 2010 Massachusetts governor’s race and the 2009 New Jersey governor’s race, where Republican Christopher J. Christie defeated Democratic Governor Jon Corzine in match-up that also involved an independent candidate. The RGA first targeted the independent, then turned its focus on Corzine, who lost. A visit from President Obama did not help.

Baker’s dance with the RGA may yet work. But Massachusetts is not New Jersey, and some of the intrigue hurts the Republican candidate.

Baker looked bad when he stood by Loscocco to accept the endorsement of a back-stabber. A too-hasty embrace of such callous disloyalty is unseemly. The plotting between Baker and Cahill campaign aides displays politics at its sneakiest. It also raises more questions about the RGA’s behind-the-scenes role with the Baker campaign.

It seems more than coincidental that Adam Meldrum, the campaign manager who betrayed Cahill, ended up working in New Mexico, compliments of the RGA. And, what’s the “lifeline’’ for Loscocco that ex-Cahill consultant John Weaver refers to in one email?

Back to dirty dancing. Remember the iconic scene, when Johnny, played by Patrick Swayze, declares “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.’’

Baker didn’t want his “Baby’’ — the RGA — put in a corner, either. Maybe he should have.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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