Well, I'm learning something. The other day I looked skeptically at the actual usefulness of an ethics task force, seeing as illegal stuff is, well, illegal. I'm grateful, then, to Scot Lehigh, who shows today how it isn't really all that illegal after all:
“The laws we have now are ineffective because I have almost no enforcement authority,” says Secretary of State William F. Galvin, whose office oversees the state's lobbying statutes.
One need only look at the Cognos controversy to spot some gaping holes.
As it pursued state contracts, the Burlington software company paid Steven Topazio, DiMasi's law associate, $125,000 from its lobbying account. Topazio, however, wasn't registered as a lobbyist. Nor was Richard Vitale, DiMasi's accountant and former campaign treasurer, who received $600,000 from Cognos's independent sales agent. Neither Topazio nor Vitale reported those payments. Richard McDonough, another DiMasi pal who is a registered lobbyist, failed to report $1.1 million of the $1.45 million he received from Cognos or its sales agent.
Although Galvin is a top-notch secretary of state, those payments came to light only because the inspector general got involved. Why? Because the IG has subpoena power and thus was able to pry that information loose. When it comes to overseeing lobbying, Galvin can't issue subpoenas.
Obvious conclusion: The secretary of state needs subpoena power.
He goes on to note how miniscule the financial penalties are for breaking the lobbying laws. Under the current regime, you're just really not in much danger in taking $$$ for lobbying and not actually telling anyone you're a lobbyist.
The fact that so many loopholes, wormholes, and black holes exist in the laws demonstrate just how damn clever our lawmakers have been in making sure their friends can a.) have nice, cushy, remunerative gigs, and b.) that they can still share some of said cushiness with lawmakers, and c.) phone in some favors now and again.
I don't know … I still don't know what this has to do with bribes-for-liquor-licenses, or maniacal, broad-daylight groping, or the Big Dig Culture at large. It does have a lot to do with Mr. Speaker. If he decides to quit playing games, and go in for a genuinely tight ethics package, with subpoena powers for the SOS and real penalties … he'll ironically be adding to a pretty decent record of accomplishment. Will he go for it? If not, it's a prerequisite for any would-be Speaker.
Mr. DeLeo, Mr. Rogers, what say you?
stuffing cash in your bra.
are morally equivalent to the notorious alleged bribes of the past few weeks’ news.
Let’s not kid ourselves, MA Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office should be aggressively enforcing the laws. Coakley doesn’t and neither did her predecessors (e.g. Tom O’Reilly, Scott Harshbarger, etc.) because the Legislature would cut the AG’s budget if the AG did.
p>The laws are written to protect Members of the Club. Right now it has gotten so bad (Wilkerson’s bra, Marzilli’s hands, DiMasi and Cognos, etc.) that the public
is demanding reform and effective enforcement.
p>Reform and effective enforcement is needed across the Comenwealth. Maybe it could start with a clean sweep in the House?
p>Maybe someone who is not a usual suspect could become speaker? As I’ve suggested before, State Rep. Ted Speliotis of Danvers would make a soudn leader in the House.
p>Any other suggestions?
legislative immunity from prosecution for “legislative matters” that David sounded off about on Braude’s show a couple weeks ago. The solution appears to be Michael Sullivan, who can subpoena/prosecute at will without having to worry about the “speech and debate” exemptions of the MA constitution (If I remember it correctly)
It is nice that someone tries to make Martha Coakley’s case. However, Coakley won’t get too far with that one.
p>The people are demanding enforcement!