Wilkerson immune?

October 22, 2010
By

Yes and (mostly) no

To be nice, one could say everyone’s right. But in keeping with the current antagonistic political climate, it could also be said everybody’s wrong. A well-publicized dispute between incumbent Attorney General Martha Coakley and her surprise challenger Jim McKenna has centered on whether Coakley once granted then state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson “immunity.” As usual with the law and language, the issue is a little more complicated.

Wilkerson, whose district included Jamaica Plain, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in federal court last June to taking cash bribes while in office totaling $23,000.

People on both sides of the immunity/no immunity issue, as well as various columnists, were chiming in without any documents in front of them until Wednesday this week.

In a debate on WCVB-TV’s “On the Record’’ on the Sunday before, part of the dialogue between the Republican and the Democrat went like this:

McKenna: “When Dianne Wilkerson was being investigated in 2007 you gave her immunity.”

Coakley: “You have said that several times. That is absolutely untrue. We did not give her immunity.”

Political reporter Janet Wu asked McKenna if he had any documents or evidence to show that. He said he didn’t at the time. On Wednesday this week, a legal document appeared on his web site that he says supports his claim.

A copy of the same “Disposition Agreement Between Dianne Wilkerson, The Dianne Wilkerson Committee, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the Attorney General of the Commonwealth,” signed by the parties on July 29, 2008, was sent to the Gazette at the Gazette’s request by AG Coakley’s office in August, 2008, and became the subject of a news article at the time.

The eight-page agreement mostly spells out Wilkerson’s acknowledgement that she violated campaign finance reporting laws in 2000-2004 and agreed to pay a $10,000 personal fine, among other sanctions. The agreement settled a lawsuit filed against Wilkerson by the state in 2005. The settlement covered the 2000-2007 time period and required corrections of other alleged campaign finance violations besides those she was originally sued for.

Item 22 of the settlement does “release the Candidate, Committee and Treasurer from any further liability based on campaign finance reports filed by the Committee prior to the date of this agreement and from all civil, criminal, or administrative claims and charges” related to state campaign finance laws during the prior period.

It does give “immunity” to Wilkerson—but only from any additional repercussions for campaign finance irregularities before then.

Stuffing cash in her bra in a restaurant and other collections of money in direct exchange for political favors that would financially benefit the payer are, obviously, among many offenses not covered by that item.

Sandra Storey