Despite the dismal economy, there is at least one business that is booming in Massachusetts. Lobbyists on Beacon Hill are raking in record fees. In fact, they have almost doubled in the past 10 years.
It’s a situation that has caught the eye of George of Worcester. He asked on our Curiosity Web site: “Why do government officials accept gifts from lobbyists at all?”
In looking for an answer to that question, we found that Massachusetts has some of the most lenient laws in the entire country.
Pam Wilmont of Common Cause said, “We are the number one per capita in spending on lobbying, influencing our elected officials in the country. We also, just in gross dollars, are near the top and we are not a huge state.”
Lobbyists are required to register with the Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office. He told WBZ, “In the last six months, over $38 million was expended in Massachusetts as fees to lobbyists.”
That’s a lot of parties, extravagant meals, and golfing trips. Wilmont added, that in Massachusetts, “The lobbying laws are very vague.”
That’s why former State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson believed she could legally collect $70,000 in gifts without violating state ethics laws. It’s also the reason that former House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s close friend Richard Vitale said he could strategize, and not lobby, for a bill favorable for ticket brokers.
Attorney General Martha Coakley testified on behalf of Gov. Deval Patrick’s bill to clamp down on lobbyists who patrol the Statehouse hallways. She said, “The civil and criminal sanctions for violations of Massachusetts ethics and lobbying laws are significantly less than sanctions for equally serious private sector white collar crimes.”
Another issue is the money lobbyists give directly to politicians to pad their war chests. Some of the most powerful people on Beacon Hill have collected tens of thousands of dollars.
According to Commonwealth Magazine, Senate President Therese Murray tops that list. She pulled in more that $26,000 in the first half of last year.
Robert DeLeo, the new House Speaker, was a very close second. He took in just under $26,000. Former Speaker DiMasi was third with about $19,000 collected in that six month time frame.
According to Galvin, “It’s a very significant amount of amount of money being spent to influence public decisions.”
Rep. Jennifer Callahan of Sutton has filed a bill to make those types of donations a thing of the past.
“The Legislature has to commit to the public and show the public that they are serious about restoring the institutional integrity in the legislative process . . . absolutely I think that is lacking,” Sutton said.
The lobbying laws in Massachusetts have not been amended since 1986.
Patrick’s proposal would increase the penalties for people who don’t properly register as a lobbyist. It would also give the Secretary of State the ability to subpoena records.
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