Mr. Maginn or Mr. Magoo?

Is it Mr. Maginn or Mr. Magoo? It’s a worthwhile question to ask as Robert Maginn generates the sort of headlines that are making him the face of the Massachusetts Republican Party. And in a year when the November ballot is likely to be headed by former governor Mitt Romney and U.S. Senator Scott Brown, that is not good.

Robert Maginn was elected chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party in November 2011 and is an ally of both Romney and Brown, especially valued for his fund-raising ability. He is also the CEO of an educational software company called Jenzabar.

Mr. Magoo was a bumbling cartoon character who managed to get in and out of trouble in amusing fashion. Magoo was wealthy and much of his trouble was caused by his severe nearsightedness. Maginn is starting to look a lot like Magoo: wealthy and politically myopic.

The latest evidence of Maginn’s nearsightedness arose yesterday when the Boston Globe reported that he had hired a GOP consultant – not for the state party, but for Jenzabar. While providing services to Jenzabar consultant Rob Willington is also going to work for the party, as the Globe reports on an email from Maginn to committee members, “at zero net cost to our party operations.’’  Which raises the rather obvious question, pursued by the drive-by liberal media types at the Globe, of an illegal corporate contribution to the party. Maginn did not return calls from the Globe, leaving it to a party spokesman to apply the fig leaf to his actions.

It isn’t as if Maginn couldn’t have seen the controversy coming. After he was elected chairman he announced that he had hired former GOP congressmen Peter Blute and Peter Torkildsen – again at Jenzabar, not the party. Torkildsen is himself a former chair of the state party and he and Blute are also expected to volunteer for the state GOP.

In between doing what he can for the state’s job creation picture at Jenzabar, the news broke that Maginn had made the maximum contribution of $500.00 to Governor Deval Patrick’s reelection campaign. He had also contributed $2400.00 to New York Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. As my colleague Professor Duquette has pointed out, a business person of one party contributing to the other party is simply business as usual, although this may be hard for the party’s true believers to accept. The conservative Massachusetts Republican Assembly sent out an online petition seeking Maginn’s resignation. The petition was signed by former Greater Boston Tea Party leader Christen Varley. Maginn also tried to steer the party into an endorsement of Mitt Romney for president, despite the fact that a state party usually remains neutral since different members will be supporting various candidates. That effort was papered over by the representation that Maginn only intended his personal support for Romney, a former colleague at Bain & Co.

So far Maginn has gotten good marks for his fund-raising prowess. But to make progress against the Democrats the GOP needs to cloak itself in the mantle of reform. And I mean a much broader and encompassing manner of reform than tinkering with pension benefits or the rights of unionized municipal workers to veto changes to management of their health care plans. The Republicans need to develop a comprehensive platform for overhauling the way political business is done in the commonwealth. Stashing operatives on the corporate payroll, funding the opposition to protect one’s business position, trying to wire the party endorsement for a political ally – those moves are positively Democratic.

Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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