A series of e-mails released by lawyers for former political aides of Tim Cahill appear to show the campaign coordinating with the state Lottery on ads aimed at boosting his candidacy for governor.
If true, that would be a violation of campaign finance law and a serious breach of public trust. Attorney General Martha Coakley, herself a candidate for re-election, will investigate. Cahill ordered the Lottery ads pulled while Coakley investigates.
The ad controversy is the latest bizarre twist in the race for governor of Massachusetts.
The television and radio ads produced by the state Lottery Commission tout the successes of the Lottery, citing the billions of dollars funneled back to cities and towns across the commonwealth. The Massachusetts Lottery is the most successful in the nation, the ads say.
"That's the result of a consistently well managed lottery," one ad says. "Luck has nothing to do with it."
As state treasurer, Cahill is also chairman of the Lottery Commission. Throughout his Independent campaign for governor, Cahill's own ads have cited his skillful management of the Lottery.
Coincidence? The Cahill campaign says it is.
"As state Treasurer and Chairman of the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission, I have a responsibility to run the Lottery and Treasury to the benefit of the Commonwealth," he said in a statement.
The Lottery ads were nothing more than the agency's usual fall marketing campaign, the Cahill camp said. There was no coordination between the campaign and the Lottery on the ads.
But Wednesday, evidence emerged suggesting that may not be entirely true.
Two weeks ago, Cahill filed a lawsuit against several former campaign aides alleging they were sabotaging his candidacy and feeding information to Republican rival Charlie Baker. The aides and the Baker campaign claimed the lawsuit was an attempt to quash evidence that the Cahill campaign and the Lottery were colluding on ads.
Wednesday, lawyers for the aides released e-mails and transcripts of text messages that show Cahill campaign aides discussing how to "get the lottery ads ball rolling."
A July 27 text message between Cahill campaign adviser Dane Strother and former campaign manager Adam Meldrum discussed the Lottery ad strategy.
Strother says in the message: "I just got the go ahead on everything we discussed. Yes on lottery ads and he has plenty of money."
Strother also says: "We just found a million for extra publicity. But Cahill can't be in the ad."
An e-mail from Strother, also on July 27, instructs several aides to: "Get the Lottery immediately cutting a spot and get it up ... Needs to focus on the lottery being the best in the country and above reproach."
There was, however, no evidence released showing any direct communication with the Lottery.
"The e-mails disclosed by our former aides show nothing more than chatter between campaign consultants," Cahill campaign spokeswoman Amy Birmingham said in a statement. "Their advice — including a proposal to go negative as far back as July — was rejected. There was absolutely no connection between the campaign and the state Lottery, which had already planned an ad campaign in the fall, as it does every year."
Whether there is direct evidence of collusion or not, the Lottery ads do not pass the political smell test. Their message of money returned to cities and towns, thanks to sound management, directly mirrors and reinforces Cahill's own campaign talking points. Cahill is, after all, the only one of the four gubernatorial candidates responsible for overseeing the Lottery.
At the very least, Cahill is guilty here of poor judgment. By law, public employees cannot use their offices or public resources for political gain. Cahill should not have allowed the Lottery to run, prior to the election, ads that are so clearly beneficial to his campaign.