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100 unsexiest men 2009

Money talks

Can Beacon Hill reform itself when the State Senate President and the new House Speaker rake in so much lobbyist cash?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 6, 2009

To hear our state legislators talk lately, Beacon Hill is all about reforming the sketchy, poorly governed relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists. The last Speaker of the House, after all, just retired in large part because of the ongoing scandals surrounding his friends' lobbying efforts. The new Speaker, Robert DeLeo, swears that reform and transparency are coming.

This vow might be easier to take seriously were it not coming from the state's second-biggest recipient of lobbyist contributions in 2008 — behind only State Senate President Therese Murray.

It also doesn't help that, standing front and center, being treated like a king during then-outgoing Speaker Sal DiMasi's departure and DeLeo's ascendance, was former State Senate president — and current registered lobbyist — Robert Travaglini.

Indeed, the lobbying scandals of 2008 did not for a moment interfere with Massachusetts pols' reliance upon registered lobbyists, who poured nearly $1 million in total to their campaign kitties during the year, according to a Phoenix analysis of lobbying disclosure and campaign-finance reports.

Nor has it prompted those pols to make clear whose interests are feeding their war chests. It is frustratingly difficult, and in some cases simply impossible, for a reporter to determine how much money a given legislator has received from the executives — not to mention board members, stakeholders, and their relatives — of companies that are lobbying them.

Thus, the Phoenix could put together only an incomplete picture of the new Speaker's funding sources, even after extensively searching through lobbyist-disclosure forms submitted to the secretary of the Commonwealth, and campaign-finance reports submitted to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF).

What the Phoenix did find is that DeLeo reported raising $270,400 in 2008 — third among all State House legislators, behind only Murray and DiMasi. (Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray led among all state and local officials, raising more than $1 million last year.) As chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, DeLeo's control over the annual budget, as well as most high-profile legislation, makes him a friend whose favor is worth currying.

Registered lobbyists, who by law can give no more than $200 each per candidate per year — everyone else can give $500 — combined to make up more than $27,000 of DeLeo's total. That figure tops $35,000 if the lobbyists' spouses, and other employees of their firms, are included — and more than $50,000 when you throw in contributions from political-action committees (PACs). But those are just the lobbyists; the big numbers come from the companies they represent. They bundle contributions, either at fundraising events or simply by collecting checks, so that the recipient legislator knows where the money comes from, and might feel inclined to treat them well.

In early March, DeLeo deposited some $4500 from executives of Arbella Insurance, and $4000 from NSTAR brass. A week earlier, it had been a similar sum from National Grid. On May 21, records show at least 18 contributions to DeLeo, totaling well more than $5000, from executives at pharmaceutical companies and bio-med investors — and from Kevin Bourque, who lobbies at the State House for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

DeLeo's campaign committee, in response to Phoenix inquiries, provided a statement saying that all this is perfectly kosher; that donations come from people with a wide range of interests, and that "All donations are reported and made available for public inspection in accordance with state law."

True — but then it's also fair to inspect them. And with enough diligence, one can group the vast majority of DeLeo's contributions into purpose-driven chunks — and, unsurprisingly, most of the bundles of financial joy were brought to him during the spring months, when he was fashioning the fiscal-year budget that passed in late June.

At the end of March and beginning of April, for example, he was showered with contributions from mental-health and substance-abuse providers. At around the same time, representatives of at least two dozen top benefactors of state-tourism spending — including the state's regional convention and visitors bureaus, major hotels, event organizers, and even the Duck Tours — pitched in about $6000.

Giant Glass executives gave $2000 on March 4; executives from seven ambulance companies gave at the same time. Executives from Partners Health Care, Mass General Hospital, the Massachusetts Hospital Association, and others all gave in the final days of February. Commerce Insurance, SBLI, and Hanover Insurance executives all gave in May.

But the most striking group gave at the very start of 2008. More than five dozen ophthalmologists pitched in to start DeLeo's year off with $23,200 worth of contributions. Eye surgeons have had a lot of interests on Beacon Hill, including the continuing issue of whether eye screenings and surgery are covered under the state's health-care plan.

Those ophthalmologists, by January 10, had given about twice as much to DeLeo as residents of his district, in Winthrop and Revere, would give to him all year. It would not be unreasonable for his constituents to wonder whether DeLeo feels more obligated to their needs, or the eye doctors'.

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Related: Youth infusion, Capuano cornered?, Financial fallout, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Beacon Hill, Boston politics, Campaign Finance,  More more >
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