Therese Murray documents

What are we to make of the supposedly apolitical office of the state Inspector General, releasing a selectively exonerating statement about Therese Murray yesterday, the day before she is to be elected president of the state senate?

As first reported by Statehouse News Service, and included in Herald and Globe articles today, the IG released a statement saying that, while the investigation into the international tourism marketing earmarks is ongoing, the IG has thus far uncovered “no evidence to suggest that any state officials (elected or appointed) were provided trips or airplane tickets by MIMP or any related parties.”

That aspect of the story is peripheral to the main allegations made in the article I ran that precipitated the IG's investigation. The main allegation is that Murray, along with state representative Dan Bosley, curtailed a competitive-bid process in order to ensure that the contract went to their prefered recipient, William MacDougal's Tourism Massachusetts (aka Massachusetts International Marketing Partnership).

Moreover, my story relayed concerns that Murray's powerful position as senate Ways & Means chair -- and presumptive senate president-in-waiting -- was preventing any serious inquiry into the allegations.

The IG's decision to release its statement yesterday certainly bolsters those concerns.

Senator Murray has claimed, through other media outlets, that MacDougall's company was chosen through an extensive open selection process. (She has not contacted the Phoenix since the story ran). But documentation says otherwise.

Below I am attaching some of this documentation.

The first is a letter from Robert Ward, president of the Massachusetts International Trade Council, to Senator Murray. The Trade Council was responsible, under the 2003 legislation written by Murray herself, for selecting the vendor for the contract. (After a Request for Proposal was released, three organizations submitted bids, including MacDougall's) In this letter, dated January 3, 2005, Ward explains that the Trade Council's three directors had all resigned. "[W]ithout a board we are unable to proceed with the awarding of the International Tourism Fund contract," Ward writes, adding that he plans to have the $2 million returned to the state comptroller's office.

The second letter is dated the following day, January 4, 2005. It is from Ranch Kimball, then the secretary of economic development, and is addressed to Senator Murray and representative John Rogers, who was chair of house Ways & Means at the time. He reiterates that "[w]ithout a Board of Directors, MITCI [the Trade Council] cannot award this contract." He suggests an alternative resolution: transfering the $2 million to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

The third is a letter from Senator Murray in response to Kimball, dated January 21. (It is dated 2004, although it is obviously from 2005.) In it, she argues that "the correct course of action... would be to reappoint previous members or appoint new members to the MITCI Board of Directors. This quick and rather simple action would allow the Board of Directors to award a contract to a successful bidder."

She does not argue in that letter what she has recently seemed to claim in the press: that the advisory board, which she was a member of, had the authority to award the contract without the Trade Council.

The Trade Council nevertheless transfered the $2 million back to the comptroller. And less than three weeks after Murray sent that letter to Kimball, the House finalized a supplemental budget package, which called for that $2 million to go directly to MacDougall's company, in this earmark:
For the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism; provided, that the office shall grant not less than $2,000,000 to the Massachusetts International Marketing Partnership, Inc. for international tourism marketing efforts; provided further, that the grant shall be made not later than June 30, 2005; and provided further, that the grant shall be contingent upon certification by the comptroller that $2,000,000 has been transferred by the Massachusetts International Trade Council, Inc. from the Massachusetts International Tourism Fund, established pursuant to section 60 of chapter 141 of the acts of 2003, to the General Fund ................................................. $2,000,000
A few months later, the Fiscal Year 2006 budget included another $4 million earmark for MacDougall's company. This time (and again a year later, when another $5 million was awarded), the earmark specifically claimed that MacDougall's company had been "awarded the contract" under the rules of the 2003 legislation:
...that said office shall grant not less than $4,000,000 to the Massachusetts
International Marketing Partnership Incorporated, the business entity awarded the contract pursuant to
section 60 of chapter 141 of the acts of 2003.
If in fact MacDougall's company was properly selected from among the bidders and awarded the contract, as Murray has publicly suggested, that should be easy to prove: there must be documentation of the official decision. I am aware of no such documentation.

I have much more about all this in the original article, including the opinions of people involved in the process that the Trade Council board members resigned because Murray wanted them to award the contract to MacDougall, while the Council's own staff had reported that MacDougall's company was undeserving and in fact ineligible.

None of this is to argue for or against Murray's elevation to president of the senate. It is to point out that serious questions remain about what Senator Murray did, far beyond whether she received any travel rewards. For the IG's office to release its statement, when it did, was anything but apolitical, and would seem to strongly suggest that the office is inclined to support Senator Murray's public image -- which cannot lend much confidence to those hoping that even the most powerful in the state are subject to independent oversight of their actions.

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