The Attack Comes Back: A Plague On Both Houses?

by John Marino

April 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. After two weeks of cackling over the federal indictments of former New Progressive Party officials for corrupt acts during the former Rosselló administration, the Popular Democratic Party has been hit with allegations of funny business of its own.

Richard Machado, businessman and doctor, and long-time contributor to the PDP and the national Democratic Party, said he personally delivered a $20,000 check to PDP President Aníbal Acevedo Vilá back in 1999. The resident commissioner acknowledged that the money was deposited in a local political action committee, the friends of Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, but said the donation was not illegal, as it went for lobbying in Washington D.C. against the Young Bill, not for his Congressional candidacy, which he had yet to formally announce. Donations to candidates by individuals are capped at $1,000.

The rules surrounding the incident are anything but clear -- as PACs appear to remain a convenient bypass to several finance regulations. But complaints have been filed over the matter with the local Justice and Treasury departments, the Government Ethics Office and the Comptroller's Office. Hopefully, action will be taken on them, and the web of regulations and possible violations will be made clearer as the probes prosper.

Already, the controversy generated over the report has shown the hazards of a politician with an over reliance on the negative. When things turn, that politician will be attacked back.

The truth is, the Acevedo Vilá idea machine was clunky before the Supertubo indictments came down during Holy Week against former NPP Secretary General Marcos Morell and former Rosselló campaign director René Vázquez Botet.

For most of the spring, the Acevedo Vilá campaign was reinventing itself almost weekly, looking for traction. Nothing summed up its deficiencies more than the decision to name the PDP high-tech development strategy after that now quaint 1970s character of the future, R2D2 of Star Wars fame.

The Supertube indictments were a big bang for the PDP campaign, and the party underlined the development with a big ad push against the NPP. While Rosselló campaign officials sniffed that the moves were a sign that Acevedo Vilá was scrambling to raise cash, it was clear the indictments, though expected, hurt more than expected.

The PDP released a "calendar of corruption," which highlighted local press photos and reports on the various cases of corruption involving former NPP and Rosselló administration officials. It also released a deck of cards, mirrored after the United States’ creation of a deck of most wanted Iraqi officials. Rosselló, of course, was the ace of spades.

But the Machado donation has at least neutralized the steady stream of news reports over the past NPP corruption. And it directly involves Acevedo Vilá in the incident. That plays into the NPP strategy to portray corruption as an ill of all parties.

Machado, it should be noted, has come out in support of Rosselló's candidacy, and has been at odds with Acevedo Vilá and the governor since his unsuccessful PDP primary run against Eduardo Bhatia for San Juan mayor. But as a heavy PDP contributor for years, his comments about campaign fundraising practices carry weight.

The focus on the negative in this campaign will mean that the Puerto Rican voter will be shut out of a campaign of ideas. It will also make it more difficult for whoever wins to govern while in office. But it's clear that the 2004 race for La Fortaleza will continue to be one focused on attack, and opponents pointing out blemishes in the records of their opponents.

Both candidates have released a multitude of proposals on how they would govern Puerto Rico, and they should be commended for that. But the focus on ideas has been muffled by the nearly constant swirl of allegations and counter charges launched by the two main political parties against each other, and the complaints against the pair launched by the Puerto Rican Independence Party and a new crop of civic groups and would-be political parities.

They blame the press for the submersion of their ideas. They blame their opponents and the current state of society. But they don't place the blame where it most belongs, on their own shoulders.

The low level of political debate partially stems from the overt failings of both political parties. A good politician just would not pass on an opportunity to wrest advantage from the Supertube indictments, say, or the Machado donation.

The fact that both were allowed to happen should spur soul-searching in both political parties. Rosselló needs to explain his administrative failings that allowed for so much corruption, and Acevedo Vilá needs to address the failings and dashed expectations of the current Calderón administration.

John Marino, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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