Should We Support State Ethics Reform?

Response needed by midnight, April 1.

We hosted a forum on ethics reform with Common Cause on March 8. Those who attended want to take action. What do you think CSfC should do? Take the poll at the top of the page to let us know what you think.

In a year when House Speaker Sal DiMasi resigned amidst ethics investigations and State Senator Dianne Wilkerson resigned and was charged with bribery, Governor Patrick filed reform legislation to close major gaps in ethics and lobbying laws. On Thursday the House passed a bill that weakened two key parts of the Governor's package but added important campaign disclosure requirements. Now it goes to the Senate.

Both the Governor's proposal and the one passed Thursday (House Bill 3853) do the following:
  • Expand the Secretary of State's, Attorney General's, and Ethics Commission's authority to enforce lobbying and conflict of interest laws
  • Increase penalties for lobbying and conflict of interest violations
  • Define "lobbying," increase reporting by lobbyists, expand restrictions to the executive branch and increase the amount of information available online about lobbying activities
  • Give the Attorney General greater investigative tools, including power to convene statewide public corruption grand juries
But:
  • The Governor wanted to change state law to prohibit gifts given for or because of an "official position" (existing law requires linkage to a specific act). The House version prohibits such gifts only if done "knowingly."
  • The Governor also wanted to give the Attorney General power to record conversations in public corruption investigations, with judicial approval; the House bill omits this provision.
For more detail, check out: Governor Deval Patrick’s Task Force on Public Integrity. House Bill 3853 (as passed) is not online yet; the version filed on March 25 can be found here: http://www.mass.gov/legis/hbillsrch.htm.

Comments

2 Responses to "Should We Support State Ethics Reform?"

Avi said... March 28, 2009 at 2:20 PM

We should support this bill. It's fine -- and good -- to work to strengthen it in the Senate. But let's remember, this will be an important step forward even if passed as is. It's great that Speaker DeLeo's first big initiative is around ethics. That bodes well for him as a leader. While I'm sure there are things we might wish to see added, it's foolish to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Let's mobilize to let the State Senate know we'd like them to move forward on this so a reconciled bill can go to the Governor's desk to sign.

Avi Green

DS said... March 28, 2009 at 3:26 PM

I would have liked to see the governor's gratuities law fix in there, but expanded wiretapping authority offers too much potential abuse for too little benefit.

Overall, Avi is right - the bill is an improvement and worthy of our support.

David Sloane

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Cambridge-Somerville for Change is an all-volunteer community group dedicated to harnessing the grassroots energy and spirit of change inspired by the Obama campaign. Our organizing work includes electoral and issue-based campaigns at the local, state, and national level. Our members have chosen to work on promoting economic fairness, comprehensive health care reform, creating policies that conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide for fair and adequate access to public transportation, and promoting in-state tuition for immigrant youth.

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