Radio Host's Campaign Conflict Draws Federal Inquiry, Ethical Scrutiny

Former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who has already served time in prison for corruption, is under new scrutiny regarding his second career as a talk radio show host.

A federal investigation is underway into allegations that the afternoon drive time host on Hartford's CBS Radio affiliate WTIC-AM and former GOP rising star received hidden financial support from one of the 2012 candidates for Connecticut's 5th Congressional seat, Republican Lisa Wilson Foley, and did not disclose it on the air as he attacked her primary opponent.

The Hartford Courant reports that Rowland recently hired a Washington, D.C. law firm to represent him in the case. At issue are allegations that Rowland became a “consultant” for nursing homes owned by Foley's family while also appearing on his radio show to “pummel Wilson Foley competitor Andrew Roraback. Some Republican leaders were startled at Rowland's testy campaigning to gather delegates for Wilson Foley.”

The $30,000 payment Rowland apparently received from Foley's nursing homes may not only be a legal problem if it's found to violate campaign disclosure laws, but it's also a media ethics issue as it was reportedly not disclosed by Rowland or the station on the air.

“If in fact he's on the payroll for a candidate or a political cause and is not disclosing that, he is misusing the public trust by using a radio station to advocate for a candidate or a position there,” said Harvey Jassem, a communications professor at the nearby University of Hartford. "That's, in my view, unethical. Part of the issue here is the radio station itself, which appears to be a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. He is entitled to promote his point of view, but if he is taking money to favor one cause or candidate over another then he has a responsibility to share his incentives, that he could be personally profiting from the public trust of public airwaves."

Richard F. Hanley, director of the Graduate Program in Journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT., agreed.

“It certainly is an issue to have a host who had political connections in a way that were not public to continue to host,” Hanley said. “It is up to CBS Radio to make these decisions to keep him a host or have him clarify his political consultancy to keep him on the air, and let the audience decide if there is a personal ideology to the guests and the audience.”

WTIC did not respond to requests for comment and Rowland could not be reached Wednesday morning.

Wilson Foley and Roraback were vying for the GOP congressional nomination in 2012 along with other candidates that included former FBI agent Mike Clark and real estate developer Mike Greenberg.

The Register-Citizen of Torrington reported in 2012 that two complaints were filed with the Federal Election Commission related to the allegations, including one that specifically cited Rowland's radio show activities as a potential violation of FEC regulations.

In addition to allegedly taking money from Wilson Foley and not disclosing it on the air, Rowland is also accused by Greenberg of suggesting a similar scheme when the candidate ran for Congress in 2010, the Courant reports. Rowland reportedly offered “campaign consulting services” to Greenberg and proposed to be paid through the candidate's non-profit animal shelter.

Roraback won the 2012 primary, but lost the general election to Democrat Elizabeth Esty. Roraback is now a Superior Court judge, but Greenberg is running again for the same seat in the 2014 race. Greenberg did not respond to requests for comment, while Roraback declined to be interviewed for this story.

Clark, a former FBI agent who currently teaches criminal justice at the University of New Haven, filed one of the FEC complaints at the time. He says today that Rowland's deceptive behavior was unfair.

“It was unfair, absolutely,” Clark said in a phone interview. “What everyone is looking for is a level playing field and everyone following the same rules. That did not appear to happen in this case. If you hire someone to work in your campaign it is disclosed in your election filings, it becomes overt if that is not disclosed.”

Asked if Rowland should be taken off the air, Clark said he would not judge, but added, “I am certainly not going to be listening.”

A three-term former Congressman, Rowland was elected governor in 1994 and served until his resignation in mid-2004. He later pleaded guilty to charges related to accepting $107,000 in gifts from entities doing business with the state and served 10 months in prison.