Ending the Pay-to-Play Culture on Beacon Hill

When I first heard on Tuesday morning that the U.S. Attorney’s office would be announcing an indictment of another elected official later that day, I thought it would be related to former State Senator Dianne Wilkerson’s bribery case.  When I received the email later that day announcing that former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi would be indicted, I realized how explosive this revelation would be.

After watching the acting U.S. Attorney’s press conference, and reading the federal government’s indictment against DiMasi, my emotions immediately ran to outrage, extreme disappointment, and anger at the former Speaker of the House, and how his behavior further casts a pall over Beacon Hill.

While acknowledging that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, and that a legal process must ensure impartiality before a verdict is given, the indictment against DiMasi is in my opinion straightforward —  and I believe it is transparent that he has shamelessly broken the law, and broken the people’s trust.

It is hard to put into words how deeply disturbing this is to other elected officials.  Each and every day, the vast majority of us work hard for our constituents, focused on solving people’s problems and setting state policy.  Yet because of the sins of a few politicians, the public perception of all of us is tarred, miring us in the mud at a moment in time when we need to be working together to survive this fiscal crisis.

As I stated in my maiden speech before my Senate colleagues, a lack of faith by the public in its legislators damages our ability to create progress in Massachusetts.  That is why, if we as legislators want to continue moving the state forward, we need to embrace bold ethics and campaign finance reform.

I believe that the House, Senate and Governor’s efforts and legislation represent a commitment towards that goal — but we need to be bolder.  That is why I filed”Anti-Pay to Play” legislation in January. This bill would ban lobbyists from raising money for candidates for public office, as well as ban the principals of state contractors (which Cognos was) from contributing or raising money for candidates for public office. You can read an op-ed I wrote on the bill back in February here.

If the allegations against DiMasi are true, then what he did is already illegal according to our current laws. No law can stop a politician from accepting illegal contributions or payments for their services.

A WBZ-TV story about my anti-Pay-to-Play bill

A WBZ-TV story about my anti-Pay-to-Play bill

But this law would send a loud and clear message that the Legislature takes this problem seriously, and that we want to eliminate as many opportunities as possible for moneyed interests to have undue influence on legislation and the awarding of contracts.

Such an act is absolutely a sacrifice for elected officials, which is exactly the point.  Each and every day as legislators, we ask all different parts of society to sacrifice for the better good.  Not only should politicians meet that same standard, we should exceed it.

There are many other ideas that have been suggested this year for changing the culture on Beacon Hill, many of them discussed since the revelations about Sal DiMasi on blogs, including BlueMassGroup.  Whether or not these proposals are part of the final Ethics bill, they deserve strong consideration.  And as the only publicly-financed candidate elected in Massachusetts history under the 1998 “Clean Elections” law, I believe we need to have a conversation after the fiscal crisis is over about restoring public financing to Massachusetts, because I think this act will do more for getting special interests like Cognos out of politics and leveling the playing field  than anything else we can do.

But before we get to that issue, let us begin discussing the measures before us this session, so that we can restore the public’s faith in government, get back to our work of helping the people of Massachusetts, and help remove the stain of greed and selfishness that Sal DiMasi now embodies.

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