How Do You Solve A Problem Like DiMasi?

People don't usually get caught the first time they send crotch shots to women over the Internet; when they do get caught, the odds are very good there's a history of it. Same goes with public corruption.

An awful lot of folks in Massachusetts, especially Democratic lawmakers, and most especially the ones who were in the house of representatives with Sal DiMasi, seem to be treating the former Speaker's conviction for fraud and corruption as an isolated incident. Like the guy had always been squeaky-clean until this out-of-the-blue COGNOS thing came along, so how was anybody supposed to know there was something dirty behind Sal's obsessive interest in that?

Hogwash. Absolute crap. I realize that many of these people believed, for the most part, that DiMasi was clean. But that was a horrendous error. It was a huge part of what I have often spoken of as the enabling of DiMasi.

It just happens that the COGNOS deal is the one that the feds were lucky enough to get a money trail for. But as I say, odds are that ain't the only dirty picture out there. Shouldn't somebody be going back through the entrails of the DiMasi years, to identify laws, contracts, personnel, etc. that may be currently in place only for shady reasons, and perhaps should be cut off?

The reason there's no enthusiasm for that is not everyone's so sure that COGNOS was an isolated incident, but because admission that there were other questionable instances would make people look really bad.

Let me remind you about one, that I mentioned in my "DiMasi's sheep" feature of April 2008, in which I quoted one Beacon Hill source calling it "one of the most outrageous acts I’ve seen in 10 years.”

In late 2005/early 2006, a year or so after DiMasi became Speaker, his close friend Jay Cashman suddenly became really interested in building wind turbines in Buzzards Bay. This seemed like folly, because the Ocean Sanctuary Act explicitly prohibited construction and operation of offshore electric-generating stations in those waters.

Nevertheless, in early 2006 Cashman created a subsidiary, Patriot Renewables, and began filing the paperwork and doing the environmental reviews.

In November 2007, just before passage of the Green Communities Act, DiMasi had an amendment dropped into a "bundle" of consolidated amendments, passed without debate and without any notification to members, to open up Buzzards Bay for wind turbine development.

Environmental groups went ballistic, and DiMasi was forced to take that language out before the senate would go along with the overall bill.

So, a couple of months later, he attached the same provision to the Oceans Management Act, this time allowing floor debate (but no hearings or other review) to placate the opponents. And, of course, the house went along and passed it, and it became part of the final law.

A few weeks after I mentioned this in my article, the Boston Globe -- in an article questioning that move, along with DiMasi's equally shady support for Cashman's Fall River LNG facility -- quoted DiMasi denying he had ever discussed the wind turbine project with Cashman. In fact, as the Globe later revealed, Cashman had been in DiMasi's office in October 2007, specifically lobbying him to ease the permitting rules for wind farms in Buzzards Bay, just a couple of weeks before that first attempt to slip it into the energy bill.

It must be mentioned that in both attempts to slip the change into legislation, the amendments came out of the House Ways & Means Committee. That Committee was chaired by Robert DeLeo, who is now Speaker. DeLeo, as I have previously written, had a practice of making DiMasi-suggested changes to bills that in theory needed to be voted on by the entire Ways & Means Committee; in practice, committee members often learned of the changes via email informing them that they had voted it out of committee.

Bear in mind that, certainly by the second time this amendment was put through, there was plenty of warning coming from environmental groups and others (including angry representatives like the Cape's John Quinn) that this was, on its face, a bald-faced end-run of normal environmental laws and regulations, to benefit one developer who was extremely close friends with the Speaker. The House nevertheless voted overwhelmingly in favor of adopting the amendment.

Now, as it happens, we won't be seeing those turbines in Buzzards Bay any time soon, primarily because a few months after DiMasi left office in disgrace in 2009, the Patrick administration used its authority under the Oceans Management Act to declare most of Buzzards Bay off-limits for wind turbine development. Patriot Renewables has since indicated that the small area left available would not be profitable enough to bother with.

Let me be clear: I have no knowledge or indication of any direct financial benefit to DiMasi of this deal. I have no reason at all to believe that DeLeo or anyone else had any knowledge or indication of such a benefit.

But Good Lord, if a Speaker felt he could get away with something that egregiously and openly putrid with the full support of his membership, don't you think there was something wrong not just with him, but with the whole stinking system?

Well, DeLeo apparently feels that it's a terrible crime to suggest such a thing, and so far most of his fellow lawmakers are backing him up. Which I think kind of proves the point.

I'll have my proposal on how the Commonwealth should address this problem in my column next week, but for now let me make one suggestion.

You may recall that when the heat started coming down on DiMasi, in the fall of 2008, he refused to turn over records to the State Ethics Commission for its inquiry into the COGNOS deal. DiMasi claimed legislative privilege, and convinced his members (with rare exceptions) to back him up -- without showing them what records he was concealing either. Their subsequent re-election of him as Speaker was in part an endorsement of the privilege claim, which again demonstrates the reason DiMasi felt he could get away with just about anything.

The Commission eventually dropped its legal attempts to force the issue, so as of now there is every reason that House leaders, current and future, should believe that they can do as they please and give a big middle finger to the Ethics Commission when it comes sniffing around.

DeLeo and other members of the House leadership should publicly state, now, that of course their records are subject to Ethics Commission review -- or, if they genuinely believe the law currently says otherwise, they should immediately put forward a bill to make it so. And all House members should come forward -- hey guys, you can do this individually, you don't need to caucus on it -- and declare that they believe those records are subject to Ethics Commission review, and will in future demand that any Speaker, or any member, comply.

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