Under methodical questioning by a prosecutor, a terse and occasionally testy Timothy P. Cahill acknowledged Friday that his campaign operatives had multiple contacts with the Boston ad firm that was being paid public money to craft lottery ads.
Prosecutors allege that the communication demonstrates that Cahill, a former state treasurer, illegally conspired to use the ads, which praised lottery management, to boost his flagging run for governor in 2010.
But Cahill, who as treasurer oversaw the lottery, continued to insist that his only interest was in protecting his agency’s image, not his own political career.
Cahill was subjected to three hours of interrogation by a prosecutor who walked him, point by point, through a timeline of e-mails, phone records, and text messages that showed his campaign operatives talking frequently with executives at the lottery’s ad agency, Hill Holliday.
Cahill maintained that he did not recall many of the communications, even the calls he made and e-mails he received. But after being handed the records and instructed to read them aloud, he conceded that, on many occasions, he and his campaign operatives communicated with the ad executives handling the state lottery account.
Attorney General Martha Coakley is overseeing the prosecution, and has much at stake in the case. Jim O’Brien, who is prosecuting Cahill in court, leads Coakley’s newly created Public Integrity Division, which she established after facing criticism that she had not been aggressive enough in pursuing political corruption.
While Cahill is the most prominent official Coakley has prosecuted, some in the defense bar have argued the case is weak and Cahill is an easy target because he is a failed candidate who spurned the Democratic establishment when he bolted the party to run as an independent. An acquittal would inevitably raise questions about Coakley’s prosecutorial judgment.
On Friday, O’Brien’s line of questioning was intended to portray Cahill and his campaign team as eager to run lottery ads against the wishes of the lottery’s professional staff members who warned that the ads would appear politically motivated.
While Cahill appeared comfortable and confident, even joking at times under friendly questioning from his own lawyer Thursday, he sat tensely, with hands clasped, during Friday’s hostile cross-examination.
In painstaking detail, O’Brien took Cahill back to summer 2010, when his campaign for governor was grasping for traction against two rivals, Republican Charles D. Baker and the incumbent Democrat, Deval Patrick.
Cahill acknowledged that, on July 26, his campaign conducted a focus group that showed the lottery’s reputation would be a major selling point for his candidacy.
The next day, Cahill and his campaign media consultant, Dane Strother, talked about lottery advertising. Cahill said he told Strother that the state lottery had $2 million to spend on ads and that Strother should follow up by contacting Mike Sheehan, Hill Holliday’s chief executive.
Later that day, Strother sent a text message to Adam Meldrum, Cahill’s campaign manager.
“I just got the go-ahead on everything we discussed,” Strother wrote. “Yes, on the lottery ads, and he has plenty of money. Cahill thinks most of $2 million is there. We just found a million for extra publicity, but Cahill can’t be in the ad. But we run ads about the lottery being well run and putting money back in communities. I’m going to speak with an ad company about copy. Cahill agreed.”
The next day, July 28, Cahill called Sheehan to discuss the lottery ads.
Less than an hour later, another Hill Holliday executive wrote an internal e-mail saying Cahill wanted to run the ads, beginning as soon as possible and ending on Nov. 4, which would have been two days after the general election on Nov. 2.
As the campaign rolled into August, Cahill and his campaign operatives continued to discuss lottery ads, according to phone records and e-mails.
On Aug. 3, Cahill had lunch with Sheehan, a meeting, he testified Friday, where they may have discussed the ads.
Strother and Sheehan spoke two days later, according to phone records.
Still, Cahill insisted Friday that there was nothing wrong with Strother, his campaign consultant, talking to Sheehan, who was in charge of the lottery ads.
“He was doing research to make sure the ads we did were truthful,” Cahill testified. “He was trying to make sure we’re saying what was correct about the lottery.”
As Cahill’s father, wife, and two of his four daughters looked on from the public gallery, the former treasurer insisted the ads were purely intended to rebut ads run by the Republican Governors Association that skewered lottery management.
Cahill said he never worried that the lottery ads he ran in response might be seen as a means to advance his campaign for governor.
“I don’t recall it crossing my mind,” Cahill testified. “I recall being treasurer and being concerned about the lottery. I also recall being a candidate for governor and trying to win an election.”
Both sides of the case have now finished presenting witnesses and are preparing to make closing arguments on Tuesday.