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editorial | Harshbarger’s phone call

Let’s not make a deal

AS A former state attorney general with good-government credentials, Scott Harshbarger of all people should understand the corrosive nature of behind-the-scenes deals - and appreciate the benefits of letting the legal process play out. Yet Harshbarger recently called Governor Patrick on the governor’s cellphone on behalf of Michael E. McLaughlin, the former Chelsea Housing Authority executive who abruptly quit after his $360,000 annual compensation became public. Harshbarger, who was apparently trying to seek a deal for McLaughlin, asked the governor if McLaughlin could end the controversy by accepting a lower retirement benefit.

Harshbarger’s explanation is confusing at best: When asked about the Nov. 8 phone call to Patrick, he first told the Globe he was intervening at the request of a “mutual friend.’’ He then called back to explain he was acting as McLaughlin’s lawyer and had met privately with the former housing chief - something he did not disclose to the governor.

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McLaughlin came under fire after the Globe revealed that his compensation package was more than twice what he told state officials he was receiving. He resigned on Nov. 3, but just before he departed he cosigned checks to himself totaling more than $200,000 for what he said was unused vacation, sick, and personal time. He has since hired someone other than Harshbarger to represent him.

Harshbarger, a longtime champion of honest and open government, was president of the citizen watchdog group Common Cause after an unsuccessful run for governor in 1998. Since then, Republican and Democratic governors have called upon him to investigate corruption and recommend reforms.

Over the past year, Harshbarger has also led the opposition to Beacon Hill’s effort to legalize casinos. Final legislation will be voted on imminently. Unfortunately for Harshbarger, he has damaged his own credibility at a critical moment.

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