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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Something to hide Mr. Speaker?

This is not the sort of pre-Election Day headline most elected officials would want, even those running unopposed.

And a headline like this, coming less than one week after Sen. Dianne Wilkerson was arrested for allegedly taking bribes for her conduct of state business, is not the sort of association anyone wants the public to make.

Yet that is exactly where we are with the Globe report that House Speaker Sal DiMasi is refusing a state Ethics Commission summons for documents that may be relevant to its inquiry into the dealings of former DiMasi accountant Richard Vitale.

You recall Vitale -- who provided the House Speaker with "gifts" such as a $250,000 third mortgage at reduced interest that would be highly improper if Vitale were a lobbyist before the Legislature.

The same Vitale who apparently offered counsel (as opposed to lobbying services) for the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin turned Vitale's case over to the Attoney General's office -- and the Ethics Commission is apparently looking at DiMasi.

I say apparently because all proceedings before the commission are private -- including any acknowledgment of what they are doing.

But the Globe picked up the scent of a legal paper trail when commission lawyers went to court last month to force him to comply. Someone noticed the papers filed with DiMasi's name -- before it was changed to John Doe -- and dropped a dime.

Vitale's attorneys have also been busy trying to quash a grand jury subpoena for e-mail records.

I'm all in favor of confidentiality in the investigation of unproven allegations and certainly ascribe to the innocent until proven guilty tradition that is part of American law. And I would be the first to say that politicians are often held to different standards than the rest of us.

Because when it comes to how they conduct the public's business, they ought to be held to tough standards.

The circumstantial evidence surrounding DiMasi, Vitale and the software manufacturer Cognos is not pretty and needs to be properly sorted out. But that can't happen when principals decline to provide the material investigators say they need to do their job.

A judge has already rejected Vitale's request to quash the subpoena. We don't know the outcome of the DiMasi efforts. But we can certainly agree with the anonymous DiMasi ally who told the Globe:
"I do believe it will raise questions among the members about why he isn't cooperating."
A double standard on American jurisprudence? Perhaps. But a case can be made that when we elect people to do the public's work we have a right to know what is going on.

That doesn't mean that damaging allegations can't be investigated outside the public spotlight. But it does mean that nothing can be hidden from those investigators who in turn have an obligation to maintain confidentiality until there work is done.

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Blogger Dan Kennedy said...

If DiMasi's got something to hide, then shame on him. Still, it would be interesting if someone would look into how much of this is due to his standing up to the powerful casino interests. And no, I'm not blaming Gov. Patrick.

November 03, 2008 7:59 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Interesting theory Dan. But I suspect it has more to do with the normal way business is done on Beacon Hill.

November 03, 2008 10:40 PM  

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