Patrick task force recommends stricter penalties for ethics violations

Responding to numerous ethics scandals that plagued Beacon Hill last year, Gov. Deval Patrick's Task Force on Public Integrity called for stricter penalties and stronger lobbying laws in its recommendations on Tuesday.


The report is the culmination of public and private meetings of the 13-member task force. Patrick put the group together following former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson's arrest on corruption charges.


"Right now, thanks to several recent serious charges of misconduct, our citizens are questioning the integrity of their government," Patrick, a Milton Democrat, said in a statement. "Now is the time to assure ourselves and the public that the consequences for breaching the public trust will be serious, swift and certain."


The report makes several recommendations including increasing the maximum punishment for bribery to $100,000 and 10 years in prison, up from $5,000 and three years imprisonment. It would also increase penalties for violations of conflict of interest laws and failing to register as a lobbyist.


Additionally, the task force recommended redefining lobbying laws to include "strategizing, preparing and planning related to a communication with a public official" to influence policy.


In addition to Wilkerson's arrest, former state Sen. James Marzilli was arrested last year for allegedly harassing several women. House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi is currently being investigating by a federal grand jury and the Ethics Commission for his connections to his accountant's lobbying efforts for to obtain a state software contract.


The recommendations will be filed as legislation by the governor on Wednesday, the first day of the new legislative session, according to the governor's office. On Tuesday, Patrick renewed his call on lawmakers to act quickly in adopting the recommendations.


"Swift movement on this legislation," Patrick said, "will show how serious we are about restoring our citizens' confidence in their government."


The recommendations, if adopted, would require compliance with the state Ethics Commission's summons and expand the secretary of state's authority to author lobbying rules. It also grants law enforcement the authority to wire tap and record conversations in public corruption investigations.


"Over the course of 60 days, the Task Force on Public Integrity was able to develop extensive proposals that lay the groundwork for meaningful improvements and strengthening of the commonwealth's ethics and lobbying laws," said Ben Clements, Patrick's chief legal counsel and chair of the task force. "I commend the members for their thoughtful and diligent work."


Check out the full report here.


Date: 1/7/2009 12:00:00 AM