Posted: Jan. 16, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

An independent counsel's report makes strange bedfellows.

There was Colin Bonini, a Republican state senator, ringingly defending Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, over the report. Both of them were in it.

"I don't believe Jack Markell has done unlawful things for a second," Bonini declared.

Bonini was venting about the report from Norman Veasey, the former chief justice, working as an independent counsel to look into suspicious campaign contributions and other spoils washing through Delaware politics, most notably from Chris Tigani and N.K.S. Distributors, the wholesale liquor company he ran.

Markell was in there prominently for raking in tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, a chunk of them from Tigani, without looking too closely to see if maybe, just maybe, they were pussyfooting around the contribution limits.

Bonini was in there more incidentally, even gratuitously, for a single occasion 10 years ago when a couple of N.K.S. workers came along with him to put up his campaign signs and he did not report it as an in-kind contribution.

Bonini had an opportunity on Wednesday morning to tell Veasey what he thought about the report, and he took it when they both attended a task force meeting on election law in the election commissioner's office in Dover. Bonini is a member, and Veasey was invited to give some input.

Bonini was amicable before he got warmer, but never impolite.

"I am not uncomfortable. I'm very pleased to see you. I'm a chief justice fan. You're going to help me put up some signs," Bonini quipped.

"The fact that I was in there really aggravated me. If we're going to be required as public officials to start logging volunteer time, that's absurd," he said.

"I don't believe Jack Markell has done unlawful things for a second. I just am very concerned that Delawareans are going to start thinking somehow all of their politicians are corrupt in some way. Chief Justice, I just haven't seen it."

Bonini also criticized the report over what it said was a "pay-to-play" political culture in Delaware, and he could have a point.

"Pay-to-play" is what happened in Illinois where Rod Blagojevich, as the Democratic governor, went to jail for wanting to sell the Senate seat Barack Obama was vacating for the presidency and was heard on a wiretap saying, "I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden."

Nothing even close happened here when Ruth Ann Minner, as the Democratic governor, replaced Joe Biden in the Senate with Ted Kaufman, his trusted confidant, although she did have a very nice seat at the inauguration.

That is the way it goes in Delaware politics. Trading favors, making deals, winking at a little cronyism here and there.

Veasey did not prosecute any officeholders, although he did bring some proceedings against Tigani and N.K.S., along with two other businessmen, for more than $660,000 in penalties and fines. A separate federal investigation put Tigani in prison for two years.

Veasey told the task force there was no evidence any candidates knowingly took illegal donations.

"We looked very hard at that. Frankly we were skeptical. How could they not have known? But we did not find any evidence that they knew. So there wasn't any smoking gun about that," Veasey said.

Veasey is a Republican. Bonini is a Republican. The Republicans have been the ones knocking the Veasey report the most. It has let the Democrats just sit back, and why not, because what can go wrong for them while Republicans are fighting Republicans?

An independent counsel's report can make estranged bedfellows, too.