LIVE: Clean Up Politics on Beacon Hill

Live-blogging the Clean Up Politics on Beacon Hill ethics reform meeting. Latest comments at the bottom of the post.

  • Contact your own representative
  • Contact the members of the House Ethics Committee
  • Write Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor
  • Set up phone bank
  • Meet face-to-face with Cambridge/Somerville legislators
4:10 PM: Passing out materials.

4:12 PM: 14 community members plus Pam Wilmot and Andrew Kingsley from Common Cause so far.

4:13 PM: Introductory comments by CSFC Ethics Reform organizer Larry Field. Brief comments about the origins of Cambridge-Somerville for Change.

4:18 PM: Starting introductions around the room.

4:22 PM: Introductions over. Mostly Cambridge residents, many involved in the Cambridge Democratic City Committee. Moving on to discussion led by Pam.

4:23 PM: Background, history on Common Cause.

4:25 PM: Public needs to hold power accountable.

4:31 PM: Pam along with Scott Harshbarger appointed by Governor Patrick to Task Force to review at the lobby ethics and conflict of interest laws. Paraphrasing Governor Patrick, "Currency of government shouldn't be money, it's public integrity."

Fine for criminal bribery is $5,000, lowest in the country. Hasn't been updated since 1962.

4:36 PM: No civil enforcement authority. Ethics Commission cannot make regulations, only makes case-by-case rulings.

Proposed law includes ethics training for all public officials. Currently, bill is before Ethics Committee. Committee chair needs to hear from community members but also the members of the legislature.

4:38 PM: Create a climate in the State House that is supportive of these reforms. Establish path for continued reforms. Pass bill through the State House unchanged. Open floor to questions.

4:41 PM: Q: People want something and funnel money to legislators to get what they want. Is it correct that these are the sorts of issues the ethics reform package is meant to address?

A: Not just contracting, but also licensing and regulation. Influencing people is not necessarily as simple as contributing money to a legislator's campaign fund. These are the worst examples, but "revolving door" hiring is another problem.

4:42 PM: What is the bill number of this legislation? House 95.

This bill is amending approximately 30 different laws.

4:44 PM: The idea is to have a level playing field, where money is not an issue.

4:45 PM: Calling this "ethics reform" is a misnomer because it's not really ethics, just the subcategory of "conflict of interest". Conflict of interest involves money, familial ties, employment, using your official position for private gain. Private gain is typically finanical in nature.

4:47 PM: Discussed some of the more nuanced conflicts of interest. An appearance of conflict is not a conflict of interest; an appearance can be resolved by disclosing everything that causes the appearance of a conflict.

4:51 PM: Q: How are people working to get "more transparency" defeated?

A: Transparency is not part of the current bill. Legislature not subject to public meetings laws. Governor Patrick is developing a web site to track and shed light on how the money from the federal stimulus package is being spent. Cities and town are subject to the public meeting laws.

4:57 PM: Massachusetts is behind in ethics reform. In part, because of the traditional of old machine politics.

Q: Any correlation between corruption and full-time legislators versus part-time legislators?

A: If you're talking about bribery, no, there's no correlation. There is a correlation with transparency laws, and a modest correlation with competition.

4:59 PM: Q: Presumption that the press will identify corruption and ethics violations. With the state of the press, who does that responsibility fall to?

A: Press still has some power, but not what it used to. Citizen journalism is going to become increasingly important. But this has more to do with accountability; transparency is how the government operates.

5:01 PM: Internet will be important in transparency. Can watch proceedings online. But bills that were filed in February are just now being put online, and many don't have bill numbers.

5:03 PM: Q: Why keeping doing this?

A: There are people like Barack Obama, Alice Wolf. And we need to make their job easier.

Moving into the Action portion of the meeting. Brainstorm some ideas.

5:05 PM: Get in contact with your representative. Contact members of the House Committee considering this bill. None of these members are from Cambridge or Somerville or even Boston.

5:11 PM: Q: Is there value in contacting your own representative versus the entire delegation?

A: Yes.

Q: What are the positions of Cambridge/Somerville representatives?

A: Everyone on the list is in favor of the bill. Some members may have an issue with the provision regarding political gifts for a "particular act" in their official capacity.

5:13 PM: Q: What is the future of this legislation, if it passes the House?

A: This bill would have more trouble if it had started in the Senate. Need to contact Senators, including Senator Galluccio.

5:15 PM: We could explode our effect if we wrote to our friends and relatives, i.e., form letters, scripts and templates, and have them contact their own representatives.

Tool available on Common Cause's web site to send a "canned" letter to your representatives. Not as good as a hand-written letter on paper or a phone call, but it's better than nothing.

Can also get representative information from Secretary of State's web site.

5:17 PM: Contact your representative, even if they are in favor of the bill, so that they can feel the support from their constituents.

CSfC should post on Blue Mass Group that this meeting occurred.

5:19 PM: Q: Is there a timeline by when the House needs to vote on the bill?

A: This bill will not turn into a pumpkin, but the Governor wanted it voted on within a month. Best guess: this bill will come up for a vote in the House in about 3 weeks.

5:21 PM: Q: Could this bill get gutted as it works its way through the legislature?

A: There are 5 areas that might be problematic and get removed, but the vast majority is fine.

5:23 PM: It would be terrible if they don't fix the gratuity statute. Courts have conflated the bribery and gratuity statutes, so you almost have to prove bribery in order to prove gratuity. This issue was exemplified by the Diane Wilkerson case.

5:26 PM: Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor of the Cambridge Chronicle, the Phoenix

5:27 PM: There are 10,000 Common Cause members in Massachusetts. Set up phone bank to contact legislators or write letters.

5:30 PM: Set up a face-to-face meeting with Cambridge and Somerville delegations. Marty Walz may be very influential. Several members of the Cambridge delegation have committees of their own.

5:33 PM: Ethics reform is an ongoing issue for CSfC. You can use the CSfC web site and email address as a resource for ethics reform.

5:35 PM: Q: At what point does an issue like this rise to the level of a referendum?

A: Let's see what the legislators do, but this kind of issue is what the ballot initiative process was created for. However, a ballot initiative is very difficult and requires a lot of money. A ballot initiative typically requires 100,000 signatures.

5:36 PM: Thanks everyone. Meeting wraps up. Summary of actions is at the top of the post.


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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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