(Update from Pam: I just got a call from someone “in the know” who reports, and I believe it, that the ethics bill is close to being finalized, that both the House and Senate are cooperating, and that I will be very happy with the result (no specifics of course). But no harm in making those calls anyway. That’s democracy in action, and it is a critical part of the enterprise.)
Massachusetts citizens are angry, frustrated, and reeling from the revelations of corruption and unethical behavior in Massachusetts. While it is true that good laws cannot always stop bad behavior, they can limit temptation and provide the tools for the enforcement agencies to effectively set the rules, detect breaches, and then punish wrongdoers appropriately.
If there was ever a time for a strong ethics bill it is now. So where is it?
To be fair, I have urged the conferees not to agree to a watered down bill, and to take the time they need to finalize a good bill. In fact a final bill may be ready as early as today. But if getting a strong bill were an easy matter, it would have been done already. So now is the time to call your legislator (again) to demand real ethics reform. Make that call this morning if possible.
What would a strong bill contain? The ethics provisions the House passed in March–enhanced authority for the ethics commission, including the power to write regulations, and a code of conduct that carries criminal penalties, stiffer penalties, and an admittedly imperfect gift ban. Better would be the gifts language proposed by the Task Force (no gifts of substantial value for or because of official position which can be enforced both civilly and criminally). It would also include the campaign finance reforms passed by both the Senate and the House and the three others only the Senate passed-a ban on lobbyists campaign contributions, a reduction in the contribution limit to political parties, and disclosure of sham issue ads and mailings.
It would NOT have the provisions that the Senate passed that actually would give the Ethics Commission less authority and ability to enforce the law: transferring adjudications to DALA, shortening the statute of limitations and repose, and an unprecedented “total” discovery requirement.
Conferees are typically very quiet about what is really going on, and this case is no exception. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out.
That said, I am still hoping that the final product will be a bill that Common Cause can endorse and the Governor will sign.