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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why mom told you to wear clean underwear

Mothers constantly tell their children to wear clean underwear. After all, appearance counts and you never know when you might find yourself in the emergency room.

By all outward appearances, Richard Vitale and his friend Sal DiMasi are fine men. Successful and imbued with public spirit. DiMasi has spent his prime in public service. Vitale built an accounting business from the ground up and devoted himself to charitable causes.

Both of them apparently also failed to heed their mothers' advice and are dealing with the fallout from some dirty public laundry these days.

Vitale appears to have launched a second business front, advising clients such as the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers and Cognos ULC. He received $1.3 million from them over time through WN Advisers, a company he created as his mandatory retirement loomed at the accounting firm he founded.

Attorney General Martha Coakley has questions about what he did for the ticket brokers. A federal grand jury is apparently asking questions about Cognos.


It appears that Vitale advised the ticket brokers about legislation then pending in the House that would change the state's ticket scalping laws. Vitale says he is not a lobbyist and certainly never engaged in consulting about legislation long enough to trigger the 50-hour limit required for registration.

DiMasi -- a long-time Vitale friend who also relied on his as his accountant and financial adviser -- says he never discussed that sort of business with his friend.

But here's where appearances come in again. The bill passed the House and will die in the Senate.

Then there is Cognos. It appears Vitale received a payment on the same day in 2007 that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts paid Cognos $13 million for a statewide technology contract.

By all appearances, Vitale has some dirty underwear that needs explaining. And his relationship with DiMasi appears to be a problem as well, prompting one of the Speaker's chairmen to opt to vote "present" when the Legislature formally convenes next week.

The Speaker also has a laundry problem, telling the state Ethics Commission they don't have a right to documents that may shed light on some of these relationships.

And while we're at it, Treasurer Tim Cahill may need a trip to the laundromat to explain about how a lottery contract was granted.

All this means the Commonwealth has an appearance problem too. Toss in the names Dianne Wilkerson, Jim Marzilli, Robert Spellane and Chuck Turner and this is the year of politicians behaving badly.

Some of it has entered in the legal realm but a lot has not. That's because the state ethics law need considerable tightening. Gov. Deval Patrick has appointed a special panel that, hopefully, will report as early as next week on proposed changes.

For starters, there should be some considerable tightening of language that governs the appearance of a conflict of interest. Because, by all appearances, we have a lot of dirty underwear in this state that needs to be cleaned.

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