Prominent real estate developer Arthur Winn got off with a $100,000 fine in federal court and no prison time for making illegal campaign contributions in an effort to win public money for his now aborted Columbus Center project.
Elsewhere a grand jury is reportedly investigating the pressures brought to bear on Probation Department employees to give to political campaigns in order to advance their careers.
All of which makes a fundraising reform proposal by Sen. James Eldridge (D-Concord) both sensible and timely.
Eldridge’s bill would make it illegal for any legislator (or their political committees) to hold fundraising events during the Legislature’s annual budget deliberations.
“The reality is, inevitably, what happens every budget season, there is a story about how a particular legislator is raising money just before or during budget deliberations,” Eldridge told State House News Service, “and then sometimes something will be seen in the budget that might have benefited that particular person raising money at that event.”
At the very least it gives the perception of impropriety. Eldridge is right; the budget-time fundraiser, especially by those involved in the all-powerful Ways and Means Committees, is as predictable as the seasons.
Eldridge’s bill would not apply to supplemental budgets, which are a nearly year ’round fact of life on Beacon Hill. But his bill would provide a kind of “buffer zone” around budget talks — banning fundraising events one week before, during and one week after each branch takes up the state budget (the House and Senate deliberations are separate).
Any lawmaker found in violation would have to return the contributions and the case would be turned over to that branch’s ethics committee.
In addition to increasing public trust, Eldridge’s bill might have the unintended consequence of speeding up those budget battles on the Hill.