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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, June 02, 2009

Legislative ethics: the ultimate oxymoron

When the third consecutive Speaker of the Massachusetts House is indicted, you have to start to wonder if the Senate is on to something by gutting the Ethics Commission.

After all, the body is already so toothless, why not put it out of our misery?

I offer two standard disclaimers: a defendant is innocent until proven guilty and a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. But in reading snippets of the indictment filed in US District Court you get a sense of deja vu. The only difference between Sal DiMasi and Dianne Wilkerson is that former speaker didn't stuff cash into a bra.

But like Wilkerson, DiMasi did succeed in foiling the Ethics Commission charged with overseeing the public's interest in good government. Wilkerson produced an ethics commission ruling she claims sanctioned her taking gifts for "personal" reasons. DiMasi challenged the commission and won on a question of legislative privilege.

It's hard to imagine the "reforms" passed by the Senate could make the agency any more ineffective than it already is.

So what's the alternative? Allow lawmakers to collect cash on the side at will? Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a solid reform that, among other things, would give the commission subpoena power it now desperately lacks.

Given Senate President Terry Murray's belief that Patrick is "irrelevant," I don't think that's going to happen.

What about stepped up enforcement by the attorney general? Neither Scott Harshbarger nor Tom Reilly won a lot of fans with their efforts and you will notice neither of them are the governor or former governor they hoped to be. And the current occupant, Martha Coakley, also has future political ambitions.

So do we just take it? I'm guessing that lawmakers assume the public is more worried about taxes than corruption and simply expect them to disregard the wish to clean up the Beacon Hill swamp.

And that is exactly why there needs to be an urgent reminder to Murray and DiMasi's successor, Robert DeLeo, that reform before revenue is not an idle phrase. And if they don't hear it now, may they will next year -- at the ballot box.

The time is long since past for this nonsense to end.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Chris Rich said...

One problem is the peculiarities of Commonwealth home rule. The real spawning nurseries of sleaze are in the obscure machinations that go on at the level of town meetings and municipal politics.

Let me try to offer up an example based on growing up here.

My dull suburb home town had a politic of old blue blood stewardship back in the sleepy early 60's but by the go go 70's most elected positions began to be filled with various wheeler dealers looking to grease wheels for endless residential real estate speculations that weren't necessarily the best things for the town.

Most town inhabitants are oblivious and indifferent about the minutiae of town politics so it is very easy for schemers to barge in and game the system. This is also the nursery for practicing nepotism by foisting relatives in various departments like the DPW.

And the lack of uniformity gives you 350 something sets of deals contrived for such expenses as pensions.

So the run of rogues who get to Beacon Hill tend to be the most agile deal makers of their bailywicks..the cream of the crap.

They out chiseled and outscammed their competitors at the ground level and then bring all their own personal galaxies of cronies and game plans to the capital upon election.

So to really address this problem, you need to look at where the usual suspects come from, an audit of each and every city and town in this odd heap.

The underpopulated backwaters tend to be fairly honest and lack clout but the regions of Metro Boston are full of opportunities to rig zoning rules, scam a 90 grand gazebo for your uncle's landscaping biz, get your useless cousin a no show job and so on.

You can't very well address Beacon hill until you tackle the origin points. The State house is just where the real masters of the game convene.

June 03, 2009 8:53 AM  

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