The Globe and Justinian (“Senate President Murray’s Best. Move. Ever.”) are right that the Senate ethics bill (here’s the text and summary) released this morning has laudable campaign finance reforms and the Senate leadership deserves kudos. The bill will eliminate campaign contributions from lobbyists, reduce campaign contributions from certain businesses, and substantially increase disclosure of campaign spending (including “sham” issue ads). The Senate goes much further than the House here.
But the Senate also weakens, rather than strengthens, ethics enforcement and rules. Let me count the ways (I’m sorry for the laundry list-too busy to be eloquent):
- It adds a “knowing” requirement to bribery and gratuities sections making prosecution harder.
- It removed enforcement proceedings from the Ethics Commission and puts them in the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA), eliminating the Commission’s ability to interpret and apply the law [G.L. c. 268B, sec. 4(f)], although they retain the ability to determine a penalty.
- Removes current whistleblower protections and requires that all aspects of a file (including the identity of a whistleblower) be turned over to the subject of an investigation. Talk about chilling!
- Shortens the statute of limitations for violations.
- Requires the Commission to stop and investigation while criminal investigations are in process.
In addition, the bill fails to add critical provisions that exist in the House bill (and Governor’s bill) which apply criminal penalties to outrageous gift violations, give the Ethics Commission regulatory authority to further clarify the rules, extend the summons power, and extend the statute of limitations, and more.
None of this takes into account the lack in both House and Senate bills of a straightforward Scaccia fix.
Call your Senator now and tell them not to take a step backwards. They should support amendments that strengthen the ethics provisions (if you can’t call, send an e-mail here). Act quickly, because this bill will be on the Senate floor tomorrow.
And stay tuned for more details as we get sponsors for these amendments!