The idea to launch a 2010 advertising campaign praising the Massachusetts State Lottery as well-managed may have been hatched by a campaign operative for former treasurer Timothy P. Cahill soon after a focus group showed Cahill’s role overseeing the lottery was a selling point.
At two focus groups for Cahill’s gubernatorial campaign held in July 2010, Washington, D.C.-based media consultant Dane Strother noted the strengths and weaknesses of Cahill’s campaign, which had been battered by Republican Governors Association ads knocking him for his management of the lottery and the state pension fund.
“Tim was defined as much by the attack ads as anything he’s done in office,” Strother wrote in notes that he later e-mailed to campaign colleagues. “Tim’s association with the lottery is an enormous selling point.”
The next morning, after a press conference, Cahill metStrother and campaign staffer Amy Birmingham, and Strother laid out what he saw as an opportunity, according to testimony at Cahill’s trial on Thursday.
Asked by Assistant Attorney General James O’Brien to relay what he told Cahill, Strother testified, “Broadly, I recall explaining to Tim that in many states the lottery advertises for itself, and since the lottery was under attack, perhaps the lottery should defend itself because if he failed in his tutelage of the lottery, failed to do the job he’d been hired to do, you couldn’t expect to be hired to do the next job.”
The defense in Cahill’s public corruption trial has argued that Mark Cavanagh, the lottery’s executive director, had the idea of running self-promotional lottery ads.
Cahill and his codefendant Scott Campbell have been accused of conspiring to run the publicly funded lottery ads on behalf of the campaign. The two have pleaded not guilty to two counts each of conspiracy and a purchasing violation.
Strother exchanged texts with former campaign manager Adam Meldrum, and later wrote an e-mail, and claimed to have convinced Cahill to run lottery ads, among other things.
On cross examination by Cahill’s attorney Brad Bailey, Strother acknowledged that the claims he made in the e-mail were “braggadocio” and “puffery” designed to make it seem like he had “pull” with Cahill. Strother also said he had long advocated for the lottery to strike back against the ads and was frustrated in late July that the lottery had not run advertisements sticking up for itself.
“That was simply your opinion and your feeling as a paid political consultant to the Cahill campaign,” Bailey said. Strother said Cahill said, “I hear you,” but gave him no assurance that he would direct the lottery to run ads.
Unbeknownst to Strother at the time, phone records show that the following morning, Cahill called the lottery’s former ad firm, according to testimony and evidence submitted at the trial. The lottery eventually started running ads that portrayed the state agency as well managed in late September.
The campaign also used the lottery in its own advertisements, promoting it as one of Cahill’s professional accomplishments.
In a July 27 text message to Meldrum, Strother claimed his drive in a Jeep with Cahill had been successful in advancing their aims. “I just got go-ahead on everything we discussed. Yes on lottery ads and he has plenty of money. Yes on stepped up fund-raising. Yes on going negative,” Strother wrote. In a follow-up, Strother wrote, “Need the pollster’s name and how much the lottery has to spend. Cahill thinks most of the two million is there.”