Be Careful What You Wish For

by Stuart Rothenberg March 6, 2006 · 11:07 PM EST

Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown (D) has been desperate for media attention. An underdog in the Democratic Senate race for the right to face either Senator Lincoln Chafee (R) or Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R) in November, Brown spent heavily on early advertising to boost his name identification and reputation.

Well, the self-described outsider and reformer is now getting plenty of attention in state – and in national – media. But it isn’t exactly the kind of media attention that candidates for high office are looking for.

Brown is in the center of a huge controversy, first reported by Roll Call reporter Lauren Whittington, with political opponents and journalists questioning whether he used Democratic state parties in Massachusetts, Maine, and Hawaii to launder funds that he otherwise would not have been able to accept.

Brown is now trying to redefine the issue. He is attacking Whitehouse and trying to make his campaign’s behavior the issue (for going “negative” with “personal attacks”), much the way that Representative Tom DeLay (R) has tried to make his accuser, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (D), the issue in DeLay’s money-laundering controversy.

With many national and state party insiders already preferring Whitehouse, Brown may well be forced to spend his time and resources defending himself during an embarrassing Federal Election Commission investigation that will likely ensue. His outsider/reformer message is at least compromised, and much of the good will that he created from his initial wave of ads is likely to dissipate.

The controversy is not likely to help Brown’s fund raising, and, for the near future, the story in the race will be whether Brown broke the law. That’s not a message that an alleged “reformer” wants to deliver, and it can’t help Democrats in their effort to take the Senate seat from the GOP.