Senator Eldridge’s Maiden Speech: Ethics Reform

Madam President, I rise in strong support of the bill before us today.

I’m honored to be a part of the State Senate, and I have the greatest respect for you, my colleagues. I know how hard all of you work for your districts, and for the Commonwealth as a whole, to improve the quality of life for every citizen. I know — to a person — the honesty and integrity with which you do your jobs every day.

It has been a difficult session thus far. Public confidence in state government is at a low, while the challenges facing us — including an extremely tough budget — are enormous.

Over the past few months, we’ve grappled with a variety of reforms designed to improve the way our government operates and, indeed, to repair our relationship with the public and restore the confidence that has been lost.

The bill we have before us today is the most important reform we’ve taken on thus far — a reform of the way our political system operates, from lobbying regulations to enhanced campaign finance restrictions and reporting requirements. This is the reform for which the public has been clamoring, and the reform we need before we can move on to the other pressing business of the Commonwealth.

We have a perception problem here on Beacon Hill, and too often we act in ways that — to the outside eye — seem less than transparent. Our campaign finance system sometimes appears set up to protect insiders and provide unfair advantages. Our lobbying system is full of loopholes, with few regulations requiring the transparency the public deserves when it comes to determining who is trying to influence policy in the Commonwealth, and how they are doing it. And our current ethics laws lack both teeth and specificity.

And the many scandals our state has seen over the last year have deeply harmed public perception of this body, and our government. As a result, support for the good work we all want to do is diminished.

The public demands reform, and they deserve it.

I’m proud to support some of the important reform measures included in this bill:

Eliminating lobbyist contributions — something that demonstrates we are truly putting reform before revenue! This is a provision I’ve pressed hard to have included in this bill, because I believe it’s an important step in reforming the way we finance our campaign system, and in demonstrating to the public that our votes are won only with persuasive arguments and good grassroots organizing.

Increased public disclosure and reporting of lobbying activities and campaign donations, including applying our campaign finance regulations to municipal officials as well as state officials. These requirements go a long way to adding transparency to our system.

Increased penalties — well beyond a mere slap on the wrist — for those who break the law.

As many of you know, campaign finance reform and measures to restore transparency to government have long been passions of mine, dating back to before I was elected to office. I believe legislation like this speaks to the heart of what it is to be a Democrat — a belief in the importance of highly ethical, accountable, and transparent government, government that inspires public support of the work we do, and public confidence that government has a role to play in making our lives better.

Without transparency and accountability, the power lies in the hands of those with the inside knowledge and the connections necessary to get things done — or the money to buy both. Without transparency and accountability, the special interests consolidate power, while average citizens lose their ability to understand, to follow, and eventually to affect what their government is doing.

Improving the transparency and accountability of our government is all about restoring power to the average person, and ensuring that our government is acting in the best interest of the people, and only the people, at all times.

And in doing so, we are better able to make our case to the public, that the government is an effective vehicle for delivering the services we rely on, from safe and efficient public transit systems to education, health care and public safety.

Passing this bill is an important step in demonstrating to the public that we are serious about reform, serious about transparency and accountability, and that we desire to hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethics and accountability. I’m proud to vote for it, and urge you to join me in doing so.