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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
- 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.