Editor’s Note: The article originally appeared in the Globe on Oct. 8, 2010.
In a politically explosive lawsuit, independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy P. Cahill accused his former top strategists and aides yesterday of conspiring to sabotage his candidacy, saying they orchestrated the defection of his running mate and plotted to give damaging information and internal campaign tactics to the team of GOP rival Charles D. Baker and the Republican Governors Association.
Drawing on a collection of e-mails, the Cahill suit, filed in Norfolk Superior Court, says that Baker campaign manager Tim O’Brien and staff members at the Republican Governors Association were actively soliciting negative information on Cahill from the former operatives. In a preliminary victory for Cahill, a judge issued a temporary restraining order late yesterday, blocking his former aides from sharing information about the campaign with his rivals.
The lawsuit, which could potentially reshape the contest as it enters its final weeks, offers a rare window into the inner-workings of the modern political campaign, showing in real time how Cahill’s former strategists and aides allegedly coordinated their departure and their efforts to use what they knew to help Baker. There is no indication in the lawsuit that Baker’s campaign initiated the contact, only that his aides were eager to receive any information they could.
Asked repeatedly on the campaign trail yesterday for comment on the lawsuit, Baker said he had not authorized anyone in his campaign to make overtures to the former Cahill aides to get inside information. Instead, Baker’s campaign portrayed the suit as a desperate attempt by Cahill to thwart the release of potentially damaging information about alleged misuse of taxpayer money by the Cahill campaign.
Cahill’s former campaign manager - Adam Meldrum, who is one of defendants in the suit - dismissed the allegations and made the same assertion, saying that Cahill was simply trying to prevent him from becoming a whistleblower. The other three defendants, former Cahill strategists John Weaver and John Yob, and former political director Jordan Gehrke, did not return calls for comment.
Cahill’s highly unusual legal action adds yet another bizarre twist to the final weeks of the 2010 gubernatorial race. This latest major development comes with polls showing a neck-and-neck battle between Baker and Governor Deval Patrick, with Cahill, the state treasurer, lagging well behind in third place.
The suit accuses Cahill’s former strategists, most of whom resigned from the Cahill campaign two weeks ago, of engineering the dramatic move last Friday by Paul Loscocco, a former Republican state lawmaker who was Cahill’s running mate, to abandon the ticket and endorse Baker. The suit contends that the strategists were working to get Loscocco to defect while they were still on Cahill’s payroll and a full two weeks before Loscocco made his startling switch.
“Paul will be given/offered a substantive lifeline,” Weaver wrote to Yob and Meldrum on Sept. 18, according to e-mails included in the suit. “Up to him to take it or not.” It was not clear what kind of lifeline Loscocco was being offered, or by whom, if he left Cahill’s campaign.
All three aides left the campaign within a week, with Loscocco soon to follow.
Cahill’s lawyers asked the court yesterday for an immediate temporary restraining order to prevent Weaver, a well-known national Republican political strategist; Meldrum; Yob; and Gehrke from giving any confidential information and documents to Baker and the Republicans.
In granting that request, Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Dortch-Okara ordered the four defendants not to disclose any information they may have obtained by working for Cahill until a full hearing Wednesday, with lawyers for the former aides present. During a 15-minute hearing, Cahill lawyer Joseph Demeo said the leak of any strategic information “could be devastating to the Cahill campaign.”
The suit says the defendants possessed critical knowledge, including fund-raising plans, advertising schedules, and messaging tactics planned for the final weeks of the race. Until their departure from Cahill’s campaign, Weaver was working with Yob under an arrangement that had paid Yob’s firm at least $213,540 since March.
“The defendants ... knew [and know] essentially everything there was to know about the campaign’s strategy and tactics for the final push to the election,” the suit says.
When they left, the suit says, Weaver and Yob promised Cahill “that neither of us would go to work for his opponents.”
“Even as they made that promise, however, they were actively preparing to break it,” says the suit, which accuses the four former aides of breach of contract and unfair and deceptive trade practices.
But while the lawsuit was filed on legal grounds, its purpose seemed as much political. Cahill has been incensed at Baker and the Republican Party - specifically the Republican Governors Association, which has aired more than $2 million of negative ads against him - for attacking him during the race, and he has been arguing that Loscocco’s departure was part of a larger plot to discredit his candidacy.
Cahill wasted no time using the lawsuit to make a political point. “Recent events of this race have confirmed the very reason why I left the party system in the first place: Party leaders will go to any length to advance their own interests,” he said in a statement. “Their selfish and questionable actions have resulted in nothing but disappointment from the voters of our Commonwealth time and time again.”
Meldrum, who followed Weaver out the door of the campaign, said the lawsuit was politics of another sort: damage control. He said he and his colleagues were planning to turn over evidence of wrongdoing in the Cahill operation that would prove he used taxpayers’ funds to finance his campaign.
“This is a political lawsuit filed by Tim Cahill to prevent me from taking whistleblower status and bringing to light their coordination with the Treasury office with regard to the taxpayer-funded ads that say how well the Lottery is run,” he said. “We have not taken reporters’ questions in recent days because we have been preparing to turn over evidence of illegal activity by Treasury employees and Cahill staff members to the attorney general’s office.”
Baker’s campaign echoed Meldrum’s allegations, saying in a statement: “So far as we can tell from media reports, Tim Cahill has filed a lawsuit to prevent public disclosure of e-mails that indicate his campaign may have been illegally coordinating with state employees at the Treasury.”
The Republican Governors Association issued a statement in response to the suit, but offered no denial to the allegations. “Tim Cahill will do anything to get his name in the papers, even sue his former staff,” spokesman Chris Schrimpf said in an e-mail.
The suit bases its allegations on e-mail communications among Weaver, Yob, and Meldrum, as well as Loscocco confidant Jason L. Zanetti, a Boston lawyer and lobbyist. The e-mails were obtained by the Cahill campaign from Meldrum’s personal and official campaign accounts, both of which were routed through the Cahill campaign server.
Baker and his staff have strongly denied pressuring Loscocco to leave Cahill’s side or offering any enticements, such as a future job in state government. None of the e-mails in the lawsuit contradict that denial, though they suggest the Baker campaign was actively seeking internal information about Cahill and his campaign that Cahill’s departing aides possessed.
“I spoke with Tim O’Brien just now,” Zanetti wrote to Weaver, Yob, and Meldrum in an e-mail sent last Sunday afternoon, just two days after Loscocco backed Baker, according to the lawsuit. “He wants to let the Paul story die on the vine. I wouldn’t mind at least one discussion with Adam and a reporter though about the `deep divisions’ between the camps, disrespect/distrust of Paul/his team, etc.”
The e-mail continues: “The Baker folks would really appreciate any `hard evidence’ e-mails/documents that shows improprieties ... Adam and I just spoke and he has some stuff.”
Zanetti, according to the suit, also wrote of Cahill’s campaign, “I know there were lots of state employees doing political stuff when they shouldn’t have been but we need proof.” Zanetti then referred to the public reaction to Loscocco’s abrupt departure form the campaign. “We want to stop the `sympathy’ that this is generating” for Cahill, he wrote.
At one point, the suit alleges, Weaver instructed Meldrum to contact a Republican Governors Association staff member, identified as Dennise Casey, and “follow through” with “the e-mails and other things you have re: Cahill and coordination with lottery and ties to Patrick.”
The suit said Meldrum immediately contacted Casey.
”The urgency with which the defendants and the [Republican Governors Association] viewed the process of extracting information about the Cahill campaign from the defendants is illustrated by the fact that Nick Ayers at the RGA then instructed Weaver to `have Adam and Dennise coordinate so I don’t slow things down,”’ the suit said.
As a reward for resigning from Cahill’s campaign, the suit alleges, Meldrum was given a job by the Republican Governors Association, working on a campaign in New Mexico.
The suit also contends that Zanetti worked closely with Weaver and his associates to get Loscocco off the ticket. It says that Weaver, Yob, and Meldrum discussed the political risks and benefits Loscocco would face if he departed. “This has to be done in such a way as Paul’s future is protected,” Weaver wrote on Sept. 18, according to the suit.