Current investigations in Washington and Augusta involve questions of potential conflicts of interest. In both cases, the central figures have hired influential people who are well placed to do some good for those central figures.
In Washington, Conrad Black, an embattled media baron and author of a current 1,280-page biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department over more than $200 million that he and his top executives collected without authorization by their board of directors.
The inquiry has focused on certain appointments Mr. Black made in the 1990s to an informal board of advisers of Hollinger International, the newspaper company that he controlled until his recent forced resignation. Among the appointees, who received $25,000 apiece to attend annual meetings, were Henry A. Kissinger, corporation consultant and former secretary of state, the columnist George F. Will, and William F. Buckley, the conservative writer and publisher.
The New York Times reported Monday that the dust jacket of Mr. Black’s book quotes Mr. Kissinger as saying, “No biography of Roosevelt is more thoughtful and readable.” Mr. Will called the book “a delight to read.”
Mr. Buckley called the biography “a learned volume on F.D.R. by a vital critical mind.” The Times noted that none of the blurbs mentioned that each of those men was “praising the work of a sometime boss.”
Other prominent members of the advisory board listed by The Times included Margaret Thatcher, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard N. Perle, and the former head of Archer Daniels Midland, Dwayne O. Andreas.
The Augusta inquiry, of course, centers on Shawn Scott, now the sole owner of Bangor Historic Track, which operates the Bangor Raceway, where he plans to install slot machines. The Maine Harness Racing Commission is scheduled to resume its hearings Jan. 8 at the Augusta Civic Center on Mr. Scott’s suitability to hold a state racing license.
He has been accused of promoting potential conflicts of interest by appointing Bangor City Councilor David Nealley as executive vice president of his Capital Seven gambling company and hiring Kathleen Newman, a member of the State Lottery Commission, to help derail a competitor’s project at Scarborough Downs.
Beneficiaries of payments like these deny any conflict of interest. Some refuse to discuss the matter, such as George Will’s retort to an interviewer: “My business is my business. Got it?”
Determining whether an actual conflict of interest exists and, if so, what should be the remedy is up to regulating and law-enforcement authorities. But in the meantime the public is bound to draw its own conclusions. An old saying comes to mind as especially appropriate in a gambling context: “Trust everyone, but cut the cards.”