When You Go Down On Corruption Charges In Massachusetts, Try To Make Them Federal Crimes, Not State Crimes

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/01/09/when-you-go-down-on-corruption-charges-in-massachusetts-try-to-make-them-federal-crimes-not-state-crimes/

An elected official can lobby his former colleagues on Beacon Hill if he has committed a federal crime but not if he has committed a state crime.

That’s what the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said last week.

The court sets out a just-the-facts approach:  A state statute that requires a 10-year waiting period for a felon to be able to register as a lobbyist in Massachusetts mentions only state crimes, not federal crimes. Therefore, the court says, the Massachusetts Secretary of State has no authority to prevent a federal felon from registering as a lobbyist.

If this sounds like another one of those only-in-Massachusetts moments, the second part of it will confirm that conclusion.

What will the state legislature do to remedy this situation?

The Over/Under is:  Nothing.

Since many legislators envision themselves as future lobbyists, it stands to reason that many of them are unenthusiastic about anything that might get in the way.

The particular case at hand concerns a former power broker on Beacon Hill.

In 2009, Sal DiMasi, a Democrat originally from the North End of Boston, became the third speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in a row to resign under pressure during a criminal investigation that led to a conviction.

On June 5, 2011 – the exact date matters, as you’ll see below — DiMasi was convicted of seven federal crimes “arising from his sale of political favors while serving as Speaker,” as the state Supreme Judicial Court put it in an opinion published Thursday, January 5. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. He ended up doing five – the feds released him in 2016 for medical hardship after he was diagnosed with cancer.

DiMasi, a lawyer and a former prosecutor, was disbarred in 2014. He also lost his state pension. So when he got out of prison he applied to become a lobbyist — to try to influence his former colleagues in the state legislature on behalf of private clients for money.

Bill Galvin, the Massachusetts secretary of state, said no, reasoning that if DiMasi had been convicted of the same crimes in state court he would have had to wait 10 years before registering as a lobbyist. DiMasi appealed. Eventually, on June 5, 2021, the 10-year waiting period ended. DiMasi is now a lobbyist.

But the state Supreme Judicial Court still decided to hear the case – on the grounds that “appellate review may be appropriate … where the question is certain, or at least very likely, to arise again in similar factual circumstances.”

Well put, SJC.

In a state where the career path has often gone state House of Representatives, state Senate, state prison, it stands to reason that some future former power broker will attempt to become a lobbyist on Beacon Hill after getting out of jail.

And now we know the answer:  If it’s a federal crime, yes.  If it’s a state crime, you have to wait.

Now, state legislators could fix what you might consider a loophole in the law in about a week, if they wanted to. A few words added to the current statute would do the job.

But why would they?

The real problem in Massachusetts is how comfortable state legislators are.

Democrats have no fear of Republicans, who don’t have enough seats in the legislature to matter and who don’t, in general, seem interested in causing trouble for Democrats even if they did.

Democratic leaders have almost no fear of the governor, whose veto can be overridden on almost any bill.  (That’s true whether the governor is a Republican or a Democrat.)

All state legislators get healthy base salaries. Many Democrats get stipends for chairing a committee; Republicans get similar stipends for serving as the highest-ranking minority member of a committee. At the same time, all legislators can make money on the side doing almost whatever they want. Few in either party have to worry about a serious challenge come election time. And in the offing is a healthy state pension, perhaps preceded by a yet-more-lucrative state government job or a lucrative job as a lobbyist.

What is the incentive in this system for integrity, principle, or courage?


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