THICKER THAN WATER Congressional candidates Richard Tisei, top, and John Tierney each accuse
the other of having been involved in the wrongdoing of relatives — while each insisting that they
themselves should not be judged by their family's ill deeds.
The parents of Republican congressional candidate Richard Tisei, in the course of their business dealings in the 1980s and '90s, prompted a lot of complaints and lost a string of legal judgments. Most notably, in 1995, a court found them to have violated federal franchising laws and regulations, effectively defrauding their business partners.
Tisei, then a state senator, pocketed more than $30,000 by selling a house with them, for which he was accused in court of helping his parents hide assets from those who had won judgments against them.
Tisei insists he did nothing wrong, and certainly nothing illegal. He had no obligation, he contends, to sever all ties to his parents on the basis of some accusations about their business.
That sounds very much like what Tisei's opponent, Sixth District congressman John Tierney, has been saying about the black sheep in his own family — a controversy Tisei and his allies have made a major campaign issue.
Tierney, Tisei argues, should have known that his wife's brothers were involved in an illegal gambling operation in Antigua. Further, the congressman should have known that his wife, Patrice, was effectively laundering dirty money by managing her brother's US bank account — and that he was benefiting personally, if indirectly, from Patrice's use of some of those funds.
The basic facts of Tisei's dealings with his parents suggest, superficially at least, a comparable story. What is less clear — and what I set out to unravel — is whether the explanations and details behind those facts make it a fair comparison with Tierney.
That answer is elusive. It certainly doesn't appear that Tisei broke any laws or behaved in any egregiously unethical way.
But then again, even Tisei doesn't directly accuse Tierney of that level of wrongdoing in regard to his in-laws. Many who are genuinely bothered by the congressman's actions have struggled to explain what Tierney has done, or failed to do, that raises this from the commonplace experience of tolerating sketchy family members, and makes it a stain on his ability to represent his district in Congress.
When I asked him what about Tierney's actions, or inaction, raises doubts about his fitness to continue serving as congressman, Tisei spoke of the need for honesty, openness, and avoiding "even the appearance of a conflict of interest." He also said the episode raises questions of Tierney's judgment.
"I think the reason he's having problems is that he wasn't forthright," Tisei said, in a sit-down interview lasting more than an hour. "When things come up, you should be honest and you should be forthright, and clearly he hasn't done that."
By sitting for the interview — and producing relevant documents and records — Tisei may have distinguished himself on the issue of forthrightness.
But the accusations about Tierney seem to be about something much more — about the sense that he allowed himself to benefit from misconduct he should have been well aware of. So it's worth asking: did Tisei do the same?