Dedicated to Joan Vennochi
I’ve been following this story on Granby01033. These are the basics of what really is or should be a scandal. There are (alleged) instances of bribery and influence-peddling. The appearance of conflicts of interest is present.
Based on the jockeying for position taking place between the House Speaker’s heirs apparent, I’m guessing DiMasi’s days are numbered and almost everyone on Beacon Hill knows it. His position, however, is so powerful, no one wants to commit legislative suicide by making much of a deal out of it yet. The Globe has done good work on this story.
As more details come out, Cognos, the IBM subsidiary that secured grossly over-priced contracts with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, looks as bad as some of our state officials. Apparently using House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s influence, the maker of business intelligence software secured two contracts worth more than $17 million.
The deal, rushed through without proper bidding processes, was initially approved by Gov. Deval Patrick in the hapless, early days of his administration. The Patrick Administration, however, soon asked the Inspector General to look into things. The Inspector General smelled something funny, the deal was eventually canceled, and the state’s money was returned.
The irregularities of the Cognos deal included:
Cognos offering a Department Of Education official a job. The Globe reported that “a former state Department of Education administrator told investigators that she was offered a private sector job by a sales representative for Cognos ULC, around the same time that the software company was attempting to win a lucrative education contract in 2006, according to officials briefed on the matter.” The official now works for state, not the DOE.
The same Cognos official told the DOE administrator that he could have more money added to the DOE’s budget, apprarently if she signed onto to software deal.
Cognos also “paid lobbyist Richard McDonough hundreds of thousands of dollars to push software contracts with state officials over three years, according to filings the company made this week…The payments for the years 2004 through 2006 had not previously been reported by Cognos or McDonough, as required by state law.” The Globe
All of this follows on the heels of revelations that Richard Vitale, DiMasi’s accountant and campaign treasurer, took $60,000 from The Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers to lobby for them. The brokers didn’t report their hiring Vitale for lobbying. They could be fined a whopping $1200 a year. In 2006, Vitale gave DiMasi an unusual $250,000 third [my emphasis] mortgage on his Commercial Street condo at an interest rate that was below prevailing rates. See The Globe
DiMasi’s law associate Steven J. Topazio (they share an office and split profits) has also received money from Cognos The Globe. The actual services Topazio provided are not mentioned in the article. They may be protected under lawyer-client privilege.
M.G. L. Chapter 268A deals with actual conflicts of interest and covers what most of us would call bribery. It’s not hard to imagine DiMasi getting a kickback from Cognos through a third mortgage on his condo. Proving it is another issue. Obviously, it’s interesting that the Cognos representative was able to tell the DOE that he could have money added to their budget. The money was eventually added.
The State Ethics Commission issued ADVISORY NO. 05-01 THE STANDARDS OF CONDUCT (Section 23). It states, “Public employees must avoid conduct that creates a reasonable impression that any person may improperly influence them or unduly enjoy their official favor, or that they are likely to act (or fail to act) because of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. A reasonable impression of favoritism or bias may arise when a public employee, knowingly or with reason to know, acts on matters affecting the interest, whether financial or non-financial, of a friend, a business associate or a relative other than an immediate family member or a non-financial interest of an immediate family member.(1)” To escape this charge, DiMasi will have to prove he knew nothing about McDonough or Vitale’s relationships with Cognos.