Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ethics Bill is Some Progress, but Culture Remains...

Representative Jeffrey Davis Perry (R-Sandwich) voted in favor of the so called Ethics’ Reform Bill today in the House of Representatives. “There are many good and strong components of the Bill which I support; however, if anyone believes this Bill will change the Culture on Beacon Hill, I believe they are mistaken. The problem remains not one of laws on the books, but of a political culture of backroom deals and one party control.”

Perry was also extremely disappointed with the process of drafting the Ethics Bill. “Procedurally concerning to me is that this Bill was basically configured in the backrooms of Beacon Hill. Even members of the Conference Committee lacked a meaningful opportunity to provide input in the later stages of negotiation. This is wrong and in the context of an ethics bill, seems a bit ironic” said Perry.

Perry added, “Having expressed my disappointment with the process, the Bill does provide some significant improvements which are a good step towards institutional reform. Following is a summary of the key provisions:

• The Ethics Commission will continue to conduct adjudicatory proceedings with increased tools to investigate possible violations.

• A provision providing a statewide grand jury with jurisdiction throughout Massachusetts (includes and sunsets on December 31, 2014).

• Includes a provision banning all gifts from lobbyists.

• Provides the Attorney General with authority over education, training, and enforcement of the Open Meeting Law for state, local and regional authorities.

• Defines incidental lobbying (for both executive and legislative agents) as lobbying for not more than 25 hours during any reporting period and compensation of less than $2,500 during a reporting period.

• Substantially adopts the definitions of executive and legislative lobbying which includes any act to promote or oppose as well as any act to influence or attempt to influence.

• Requires the Secretary of State to automatically disqualify an individual convicted of a felony of ethics, lobbying, or campaign finance laws from registering as a lobbyist for 10 years from the date of conviction.

• Prohibits the use of campaign funds for the payment of fines, penalties, restitution or damages for ethics violations.

• Requires individuals confirmed by the Governor’s Council to disperse campaign accounts within 6 months from the date of confirmation.

• Requires monies gained through bribes and illegal activities to be reported as income for tax purposes.

• Codifies the crime of obstruction of justice and institutes penalties of up to $10,000 and 5 years in prison (2 ½ HOC) if the proceeding involves a civil case, and penalties of up to $25,000 and 10 years in prison (2 ½ HOC) if the proceeding involves a criminal case.

• Increases the maximum criminal penalty of $5,000 and 3 years in prison for giving or receiving a bribe to influence an official act, to a fine of up to $100,000 or up to 10 years in prison (2 ½ HOC) or both.

• Increases the maximum criminal penalty for violating lobbying laws from $100 to $5,000, to a fine of up to $10,000 or up to 5 years in prison (2 ½ HOC) or both.

• Increases penalties for late reporting by lobbyists to $50 per day late up to the 20th day and $100 per day late thereafter until filing.

• Increases the penalties for late filed campaign finance reports from $10 per day to a maximum of $2,500 total, to a fine of $25 per day and a maximum of $5,000.

• Increases the penalties against state employees from up to $3,000 and 2 years in prison, to a penalty up to $10,000 and 5 years in prison (2 ½ HOC) for receiving compensation for state action, violating the revolving door laws, participation in a matter in which an employee has a financial interest and participation in a matter in which an employee has a financial interest in the contract of a state agency.

• Civil penalties for conflict of interest law and financial disclosure law violations are increased from a maximum of $2,000 per violation to a maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation. The civil penalty for bribery is increased to $25,000.

Perry was selected to serve on the Conference Committee on the pending Ethics Reform Bill. Perry was among three members from the House of Representatives and three Senate members to serve on this Conference Committee. These Legislators were charged with ironing out the differences between the different reform bills. In addition to this appointment, Perry also serves as the Ranking Member on the House Ethics Committee.