Save Our State of Massachusetts
The short version:
Last week the House Republican Caucus on Beacon Hill introduced sweeping ethics legislation in an effort to clean up Beacon Hill. One of those ideas was to have lobbyists wear a small badge that said “LOBBYIST” on it. By doing so, everybody in the room, and those walking by, would know who the lobbyists were. Seems like a commonsense rule to me. I mean when I go into any building in Downtown Boston I have to wear a visitor badge. When I go to large events and have special access I need to wear a badge on a lanyard. Pretty innocuous isn’t it?
Not to House Rules Committee Chair John Bineneda (D-Worcester). To Binenda having lobbyists wear a badge is the moral equivalent of Hitler branding the Jews with numbers and the Star of David. I’m not kidding, here is what he told the State House News Service (subscription required).
The idea of the badge by lobbyists to me, I kind of find that revolting,” Rep. John Binienda (D-Worcester), chairman of the House Rules Committee, told the News Service in a phone interview. “Hitler during the concentration camps tattooed all of the Jewish people so he would know who was Jew and who wasn’t and that’s something that I just don’t go along with.”
Binenda, coincidentally, is the committee chairman that is responsible for writing house rules, including ethics rules. He seems to be showing that he’s just another go along to get along Democrat. Don’t worry John, I don’t think Brad Jones and Dan Winslow are getting the gas chambers ready.
Rob Eno (EaBo Clipper)
The long version:
ETHICS CHANGES GENERATE TALK AS HOUSE CHAIR RIPS LOBBYIST BADGES
By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 30, 2011..As House Speaker Robert DeLeo promised Wednesday that a set of Republican-backed ethics reforms would be given consideration, one of his top deputies compared a provision to force lobbyists to wear identification badges to the tattooing of Jews in Nazi Germany.
House Republicans indicated that since they offered ethics reforms last week – a response to the jury conviction of former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and lobbyist Richard McDonough in a public corruption scheme – some Democrats had expressed interest in signing on. The proposals included a plan to require lobbyists seeking access to House members or staff to wear visible identification badges.
“The idea of the badge by lobbyists to me, I kind of find that revolting,” Rep. John Binienda (D-Worcester), chairman of the House Rules Committee, told the News Service in a phone interview. “Hitler during the concentration camps tattooed all of the Jewish people so he would know who was Jew and who wasn’t and that’s something that I just don’t go along with.”
Binienda’s comments came a week after House Minority Leader Brad Jones, Rep. Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk) and other House Republicans unveiled the ethics changes. The proposal calls for a ban on members and staff from contacting public entities regarding pending contract procurements, largely limiting House members and staff to written recommendations for job applicants in the public sector, creating a duty for members to report unethical or criminal conduct by members or staff, treating sexual harassment as an ethical as well as employment issue, and limiting lobbyists access to members and staff unless they’re wearing a lobbyist ID badge.
According to Winslow, lobbyist badges would help remind House members discussing issues with lobbyists that they are being paid to advocate for a particular point of view and to remind citizens and the press of the identities of individuals clustered around lawmakers and who those lobbyists represent.
Another GOP proposal would ban lobbyists from accessing the House chamber, a restriction that Binienda said already exists. Binienda said lobbyists seeking access to House members during sessions wait outside the chamber and fill out cards that court officers then bring to members inside the chamber.
“I know who the lobbyists are when I go out there,” said Binienda, a member of the House since 1987. “They don’t come in the House chamber.”
The proposed checks on lobbyists are among a raft of reforms offered by House Republicans, who told the News Service Wednesday that former House Majority Leader John Rogers, defeated by House Speaker Robert DeLeo after a bruising fight for the House speaker’s post in 2008, had signed on as a supporter of the changes, along with Democrat Rep. Colleen Garry of Dracut.
Winslow said House Democrats have shown interest in the rules changes, saying one Democrat called him at home Tuesday night to discuss the ideas. In deference to the item at the top of the current legislative to-do list – annual state budget talks – Winslow said he planned to wait to introduce the GOP ethics order until after budget work is completed “just so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.”
Winslow said, “It absolutely should be a bipartisan effort. We’re getting calls of interest from Democratic legislators. Over a dozen have reached out to me and expressed an interest in varying degrees. I’m very hopeful that the speaker will see this as an opportunity for the House as an institution.”
Binienda said that once fiscal 2012 budget talks between the House and Senate end, he plans to meet with DeLeo to discuss reforms offered by Republicans. “We’ll discuss what we’re going to do, when we’re going to do it and if we’re going to do it,” he said.
But Binienda noted the House held its biennial rules debate in January.
“The next time that there will be a rules debate won’t be until January of 2013 so that would be a time to change existing rules,” Binienda said. “I don’t know if we’re going to open that up again for additional change at the present time.”
Apprised of the level of support and interest among House Democrats for the Republican proposals, DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell said in a statement late Wednesday: “This plan offers some positive proposals, and the House is going to consider them.”
Gitell said a proposed GOP ban on lawmakers endorsing others for jobs with oral recommendations had been incorporated into a court management bill that’s being negotiated by a six-member conference committee. As for the other GOP ideas, Gitell said, “In some cases, they further strengthen the rules reforms passed during the last couple of sessions, such as the term limit on the Speakership, mandatory ethics training for all members and staff, and a change in the House procurement process.”
Binienda called a “snitch rule” proposed by Republican – which creates an ethical obligation for lawmakers and staffs to report any suspected illegal or unethical conduct by colleagues -“childish” and Winslow said that based on feedback from members, he was open to narrowing proposed reporting requirements to cases involved suspected corruption or violations of public trust. Binienda said the House already has anti-sexual harassment rules and called that something that is “never going to be tolerated in this building.”
Binienda also questioned a GOP plan to give Republicans equal representation with Democrats on the House Ethics Committee. Noting the House rejected that idea in January, he suggested the change would not have influenced the case of DiMasi, who was convicted in connection with steering state software contracts to a preferred vendor for kickbacks. The GOP proposals are motivated by politics, he said.
“The remarks and the ideas of Brad and Dan were aimed at one party, the Democratic Party, and it was solely in reaction to the former Speaker DiMasi,” Binienda said, alleging that Republicans would not be proposing the changes if they were in control of the House as they were in the 1940s and 1950s.
House Ethics Committee Chairman Rep. Martin Walsh (D-Dorchester) echoed Binienda’s claim that some of the GOP proposals are already woven into House procedures. Referencing a GOP plan creating disclosure requirements if a House member or staff member is arrested, indicted or charged with criminal offenses, Walsh said the Ethics Committee is set up already to handle ethics issues when they arise.
“If somebody gets arrested or indicted, that’s going to police itself,” Walsh said, adding that he believed “in most cases the committee would act immediately.”
While emphasizing no one can control the conduct of others, Walsh said recently instituted ethics training for members covers many areas highlighted by Republicans. Walsh concluded, “Any member who has an idea, you have to pursue it. In light of the situation with the former speaker’s trial, some people are taking this as an opportunity to use this for whatever reason. The House has made significant changes here in the way we do business. All of this stuff went into place prior to this trial going on.”