Is Chris Doherty Running a Scorched Earth Campaign Against Eileen Donoghue?

Doherty Attack Flier - Click to Enlarge

Chris Doherty has been running an aggressive campaign against former Lowell Mayor Eileen Donoghue for the 1st Middlesex Senate District. Donoghue was by far the better known candidate going into the race, but Doherty has been making fast progress. He has been vocal in debates attacking Donoghue on her record and her positions on issues.

Some people have been questioning if Doherty’s campaign isn’t getting a little bit “Karl Rovian”.

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But are Doherty’s Attacks Unfair?

Politics can be a rough game. With the electorate in a particularly sour mood, voters appreciate a candidate who is unapologetic about calling out an opponent on political scandals. But the criticisms have to be fair and accurate.

Doherty has been saying a lot of things about Donoghue’s record. Is he right?

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Donoghue’s Work in Criminal Defense

One of Doherty’s most stinging attacks is that Donoghue has worked as a criminal defense attorney defending among others a client who created false documents, like fake social security cards and green cards. This works for Doherty in two ways. As a district attorney his job has the more glamorous side of criminal justice – prosecuting criminals. It also works for him because in Lowell, with its large immigrant community, illegal immigration is a divisive issue.

The great majority of Donoghue’s legal work has been representing clients in civil matters. As a fluent speaker of Spanish, Donoghue keeps her name on a list of the Federal Court’s Criminal Justice Act Board. They appoint attorneys to represent indigent clients as required by the 6th Amendment of the Constitution. It’s not as if she goes out to solicit for criminal defense work – but rather that she makes herself available to do, the unenviable, but necessary work of defending those who face criminal prosecution.

President and patriot John Adams was also a public defender

Our criminal justice system only works when those who are accused of a crime are vigorously defended. That is why the State pays for both the State prosecutor, and when an accused cannot afford a lawyer, for their defense. This way, when a person who is indeed guilty of a crime is prosecuted, and sentenced, no one can accuse the court of railroading the criminal. The public can have confidence that the sentence is just and appropriate. When a criminal is sentenced, the fact that they were defended by an expert – a lawyer – is what makes the sentence stick. One of the avenues for appeal of a sentence is to say that you were not properly defended. Just as the prosecutor is a necessary part of putting and keeping a criminal in jail – so is the defense attorney.

This should be well understood here in Massachusetts. It was here that John Adams, our second President, made his bones as a public defender – defending British soldiers in the Boston Massacre.

It may not be a pleasant or popular duty – but it is a public service necessary to put criminals in jail.

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Is Donoghue’s Campaign “Run by Lobbyists”?

One of Donoghue's Mailings - click to enlarge

Doherty has sent out a mailer saying that “Eileen Donoghue’s campaign is being run by lobbyists.”

Lobbyist influence is a legitimate issue in Massachusetts. They spend millions every year to influence political races. The whole casino and slot machine issue this year was largely lobbyist driven.

Eileen Donoghue has indeed hired two “media consultants” from the Liberty Square Group – Scott Ferson and Conor Yunits. (Conor used to run the much beloved and now sadly missed MassBeacon blog ).

All candidates who can afford it, hire people to help them with communications doing such things as helping draft press releases, make web sites, communicate with the press etc. I don’t know what work Scott and Conor are doing for Donoghue, but both Donoghue and Doherty have hired consultans to help them with media.

The Liberty Square Group does in fact employ registered lobbyists – but Conor and Scott are not among them. In addition to political consulting, Liberty Square also represents casino and tobacco interests among others. Even if Conor and Scott are not themselves lobbyists, the connection to Liberty Square is something that voters should consider.

The kinds of lobbyist connections which should bother voters is not when a candidate pays the company for services (and owes them nothing) but rather when they accept lobbyist’s political contributions. If  lobbyists are “running her campaign” they would have to be paying for it. ( Check out our story on Tim Cahill if you want to see what that looks like. ) Donoghue’s campaign finance reports don’t show any contributions from Liberty Square or any other lobbyist.

It is interesting that, back in May, Doherty accused Donoghue’s campaign of being entirely “self funded.” It can’t be self funded and lobbyist driven at the same time.

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Donoghue Voted to Double Her City Council Pay

In another mailer, Doherty says that Donoghue voted to double her pay at the expense of the city’s school budget. In 1999 the Lowell City Council voted unanimously to raise the pay of councilors from $7,500 per year to $15,000 per year. By comparison Cambridge, which has a lower population than Lowell, pays its City Councilors $60,000 per year. This is just  the second pay increase for Lowell City Councilors in 60 years. City Councilors – like District Attorneys – do valuable work and deserve to be paid. If the work was not paid, only the rich could afford to serve on City Council.

In her years as a City Councilor, Eileen Doherty was paid an average of $12,500 per year. Chris Doherty as District Attorney earns $86,000 of tax payer money. Chris’ pay is $20,000 more than the entire pay increase for the 9 member Lowell City Council. If he feels so strongly about it, he could donate the majority of his state salary to pay the difference and still have enough money left over keep more than Donoghue – or any City Councilor earned.

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Push Poll Controversy

Early in the race, someone was running a push poll in Lowell making a number of untrue or unsubstantiated claims about Eileen Donoghue.

Push polls are special category of political cowardice. It is a way for candidates to spread rumors about their opponent, without actually coming out and saying it themselves. If you really believe what you are saying in the push poll, why not come out with a press release with your name on it and put your claims before the voters?

When questioned about it, Doherty denied that he commissioned the poll and suggested that any number of special interest groups could have been behind the poll. Which is true – it could be anyone.

But in yesterday’s campaign finance reports, blogger Gerry Nutter found that around the time of the poll, Doherty paid nearly $50,000 to “Mad Dog“, a company that, among other services, runs “cutting-edge advanced targeting studies.” Is that the same as automated telephone polling?

Chris Doherty has never given voters a straight answer on the push poll. (Listen to Eileen Donoghue and Chris Doherty talk about the push poll on WCAP ). He has so far suggested that someone else could have done it. He should come clean about whether he in fact commissioned a push poll, and what services he bought from Mad Dog.

Let’s put leadership and transparency to the test.

3 Comments

  • Jared
    September 10, 2010 - 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Doherty is running an aggressive Democratic campaign against a closet Republican. Donoghue served on the Cellucci-Weld transition team. Donoghue donated money to a multi-millionaire Republican against Sue Fargo, a progressive Democrat. Her efforts sought to unseat 1 of 7 seven progressive women in the State Senate. Donoghue also gave money to Cahill after he declared he would leave the party to run against Patrick. Doherty is running a Kennedy style campaign against Mitt Romney. And guess what…he is going to win! We need good democrats, enough of the DINO’s.

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