Gov. Patrick Pushes for Sweeping Ethics Reform

An ethics task force created by Gov. Deval Patrick is calling for tougher penalties for bribery, broader definitions of lobbying and expansion of the attorney general's authority in fighting corruption.

The 13-member Task Force on Public Integrity was established in November following several high-profile corruption investigations, including that of former state Sen.
Dianne Wilkerson, who was arrested on federal bribery charges, and into associates of House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. Richard Vitale, the speaker's accountant and campaign treasurer, was indicted on campaign finance and lobbying violations.

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, the governor said he would file a measure on Wednesday that incorporates the task force's recommendations. 

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

Chaired by the governor's Chief Legal Counsel Ben Clements, the bipartisan task force examined the current regulatory structure governing ethics, lobbying and public employee conduct and received input from experts and the public. For the full report and other information, click here.

Among the recommendations are increasing the maximum punishment for bribery to $100,000 and 10 years imprisonment from $5,000 and three years and increasing other penalties for violating conflict-of-interest laws and lobbying rules. The measure would grant the secretary of state authority to suspend or permanently revoke a legislative or executive agent's license, and give him or her the authority to impose fines.

It would also define lobbying to include strategizing, preparing and planning related to communications with a public officials for the purpose of influencing legislative or executive policy and expand the "revolving door" provision to include the executive branch.

The Ethics Commission would get greater enforcement authority and attorney general's ability to investigate and enforce the laws would be strengthened, including wire-tapping ability and the power to convene statewide grand juries.

Patrick has called for the Legislature to move quickly on passing the sweeping reform measure.

"Swift movement on this legislation will show how serious we are about restoring our citizens' confidence in their government," he said. "... In a successful democracy the currency of government is not money, it's integrity."

Date: 1/6/2009 12:00:00 AM