A year ago, then-Treasurer Timothy Cahill was at the center of a campaign drama almost too unreal to write.
Cahill, mounting an independent candidacy for governor after earlier abandoning the Democratic Party, suffered a defection himself when his running mate, Paul Loscocco, quit the ticket and endorsed Republican gubernatorial contender Charles Baker.
Cahill, in turn, announced he was suing former staffers he claimed had conspired to undermine his candidacy. That campaign case ultimately was settled.
Coakley revealed a grand jury had handed up indictments against former state Probation commissioner John J. O’Brien and Cahill’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, Scott Campbell.
Scott CampbellJonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
The central allegation was that O’Brien and Campbell conspired in 2005 to raise $11,000 in contributions to Cahill’s 2006 Treasury reelection campaign in exchange for a job for the commissioner’s wife in the Lottery. The agency is overseen by the treasurer.
“We allege that these government officials violated the public trust, trading campaign contributions for a taxpayer-funded job,’’ Coakley said during a Beacon Hill news conference. “Filling a job in exchange for a campaign fund-raiser is against the law and undermines the integrity of the hiring process and campaign finance laws.’’
Furthermore, Campbell is accused of laundering $1,500 in contributions to Cahill’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign by giving others $500 apiece in cash and then asking them to write checks to the treasurer’s committee.
While Cahill himself was not indicted, Coakley said she could seek additional charges.
“This is the beginning of the investigation, not the end of it,’’ the attorney general said.
O’Brien and Campbell will be arraigned next week. O’Brien’s attorney denied any impropriety, as did Cahill’s. Campbell’s declined comment.
Nonetheless, the allegations recalled the chaotic events – and scrappy, questionable candidate and staff activity – as Cahill’s campaign spiraled a year ago.
First, campaign consultants John Weaver and John Yob quit on Sept. 23, 2010, saying Cahill no longer had a chance of defeating Baker and Democratic incumbent Governor Deval Patrick.
Weaver said Cahill only served to play a spoiler’s role, ensuring Patrick would reelection in a three -way race as Baker and Cahill split the anti-incumbent vote. At the time, a survey showed Patrick and Baker statistically tied with about 35 percent of the vote and Cahill lagging far behind at 11 percent.
“As much as I like Tim Cahill, I can’t be party to helping elect the most liberal candidate in the race,’’ Weaver said during an interview.
A day later, Cahill vowed to remain in the race. He also announced the resignation of campaign manager Adam Meldrum – an associate of Weaver and Yob.
Meldrum was replaced with Campbell, who had been a campaign consultant since May.
“We move forward, and it’s not the consultants or the pollsters or the pundits that are going to decide this race, but the people of Massachusetts, and I’ve still got a great message that’s resonating,’’ Cahill told reporters called to his campaign headquarters, which was festooned with images of the underdog 1980 US men’s Olympic hockey team. “I have no intention of quitting or leaving; I have every intention of winning.’’
As for Campbell, Cahill underscored their close connection.
“Scott’s been really the presence of this campaign, the leader of this campaign. He’s got experience in winning two statewide elections for me,’’ said the two-term state treasurer.
On Oct. 1, though, Cahill suffered another shock: Loscocco announced his defection.
“Tim cannot win,’’ the former running mate said during a news conference at Baker’s campaign headquarters. “Our message has not resonated with the voters.’’
Hours later, Cahill called his own news conference and branded himself the victim of a Republican conspiracy to undermine his candidacy.
“When they try to silence me, they are trying to silence you. This is an unprecedented insiders’ play to try and stop change,’’ Cahill said as he was flanked by his wife, father, and a crowd of cheering supporters at his campaign headquarters.
On Oct. 7, the Quincy resident struck back, filing a lawsuit against Weaver, Yob, and Meldrum, citing emails he claimed showed collusion to encourage Loscocco’s defection.
Cahill sought compensatory damages, as well as a temporary restraining order to prevent any information-sharing between the former Cahill aides, state and national Republicans, and the Baker campaign.
“If this is the kind of underhanded, backroom tactics the Washington Republicans and Charlie Baker will use to get elected, we certainly can’t trust him to govern,’’ Cahill told reporters.
Meldrum countered with his own claim: Cahill’s lawsuit was an effort to muzzle him as he prepared to expose the treasurer’s decision to order a fresh round of taxpayer-financed Lottery commercials that, the former aide said, were a veiled attempt to boost his flagging gubernatorial bid.
“This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to silence us from doing the right thing for the people of Massachusetts,’’ said Meldrum. “It is unfortunate that once again Tim Cahill is using the taxpayer dollars to further his political ambition.’’
A judge barred Meldrum and his colleagues from sharing any internal information, and Cahill’s campaign later received $45,000 from Weaver and the others to pay its attorney. Coakley, meanwhile, continues to investigate Meldrum’s charges against Cahill – which prompted the Lottery to halt the advertising spree.
And while Cahill accused his former top aides of disloyalty toward him, others who continued to work for him were seen pushing the envelope of legal activity as they tried to boost the treasurer.
Besides the coincidental pro-Cahill ad campaign undertaken by the Lottery, government aides routinely appeared at campaign events during normal business hours, including the midday news conference during which the treasurer vowed to rebound from Loscocco’s defection.
One aide later explained he had punched out for the afternoon on personal time, which is allowed under state law. Another top Treasury employee similarly explained her attendance at a midday debate in Cambridge.
Meldrum’s counterclaim, meanwhile, included numerous emails from Treasury employees about campaign business that were written during normal business hours , and on personal email accounts that were not subject to public records laws.
A year later, fresh charges swirl around Cahill, his staff, and his campaign. When Coakley was asked yesterday whether the former treasurer should be worried, the attorney general declined a direct answer.
“We have focused on what evidence we can prove,’’ she said.