To some extent, this lack of media buzz is a matter of timing: after all, Vennochi’s scoop came on a late-summer weekend, one of the worst possible times for a story to get traction. But there are other factors at work here as well.
For starters, Boston’s dailies each have good reason to let the story slide. Take the Globe. Read in tandem with Vennochi’s August 10 column — “Killer Coke’s Charges Go Flat” — her August 12 piece looks like a stinging rebuff to Frank Phillips, the Globe’s veteran State House reporter, who’d written an August 7 story that discussed Rogers’s pending trip to Massachusetts in an oddly credulous light. (In response to Phillips’s piece, the liberal political blog Blue Mass. Group reported that Killer Coke seems to be a one-man operation linked to Corporate Campaign, Inc., Rogers’s for-profit consulting operation, rather than a “group of labor activists,” as Phillips described it.) Had they followed up on Vennochi’s work, the Globe’s news desk would have been implicitly criticizing the work of its top political reporter. As the Phoenix went to press, Globe political editor David Dahl said the news desk would continue reporting the story and added, “I wish the news side would have had those e-mails. That was a great bit of reporting by Joan.”)
As for the Herald, Killer Coke seems like just the kind of hard-hitting gotcha story the tabloid thrives on. But the Herald also tends to write off stories when the Globe gets there first. (The Globe usually takes a different tack when beaten by a competitor: it waits a bit and then re-reports the story without mentioning the rival who broke it.)
In addition, both the Reilly and Patrick campaigns have their own incentives to allow the story to fade away. During the Southborough-crash-intercession controversy, Reilly was, if anything, too quick to publicly defend his integrity. In this case, though, he’s kept a low profile, allowing his spokespeople to do most of the damage control.
The Patrick campaign’s subdued response might seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually good strategy. Condemning the Reilly camp’s behind-the-scenes collaboration with Rogers would mean reminding voters of Rogers’s critiques of Patrick’s Coke tenure, and of Patrick’s corporate ties in general, which represent Reilly’s favorite anti-Patrick talking point. What’s more, a weakened Reilly candidacy only benefits Patrick if he picks up more undecided voters and Reilly supporters than Chris Gabrieli, the third Democrat in the race. But Patrick and Gabrieli partisans alike think Gabrieli will benefit most if Reilly hemorrhages support. “It’s almost better to have Reilly out there as a wounded duck, as opposed to if he’s out of the race, and more moderate-to-conservative voters turn to Gabrieli,” one Patrick loyalist argues.
Of cats and bags
The Reilly campaign’s apparent coordination with Rogers isn’t necessarily problematic from a legal point of view. Massachusetts law prohibits for-profit entities like Corporate Campaign, Inc., Rogers’s consulting operation, from making “in-kind” (i.e., non-cash) contributions to campaigns. But if Corporate Campaign, Inc., funded Rogers’s recent anti-Patrick efforts in Massachusetts, and those efforts are deemed contributions to Reilly — both of which remain open questions — the Reilly committee could simply pay Corporate Campaign for services rendered and note this payment on campaign-finance filings. (More campaign-finance arcana: if Rogers, rather than his corporation, is found to have made an in-kind contribution to Reilly, the cash value of that contribution would be capped at $500.) Oddly, Vennochi may have done Reilly a favor here: if the Reilly-Rogers link hadn’t been revealed until later — after the relevant reporting period had closed, and without the requisite disclosure — the AG could have been nailed for a campaign-finance violation that would compromise his carefully cultivated squeaky-clean image.)