Friday, November 28, 2008

Ethics, Schmetics

In an attempt to wipe the tarnish off its reputation, the Legislature has several competing plans to improve the ethical behavior of its members. Some ideas, like six-year term limits for the position of House Speaker, seem wise. Others, like ethics training every two years, are a complete waste of time.

(Can't you just imagine the retro film strip now? It will be titled "Ethics and you!" And just like the classrooms of yore, nobody would care.)

But none of the plans seem to address the major issue that's kept people like House Majority Leader John Rogers in place, even in the face of serious allegations.

There's no one agency or person who's responsible for investigating and prosecuting all the ethical violators on Beacon Hill.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin keeps track of the lobbyists, but does not have the power to compel them to talk. That's the responsibility of the Attorney General. Martha Coakley has asked a grand jury to look into the dealings of Cognos "strategist" and friend of Sal DiMasi, Richard Vitale. Galvin has also asked her to investigate the work Joe Lally did for the software giant.

For campaign finance violations, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance investigates and refers any criminal activity to the Attorney General. The FBI apparently keeps tabs on those who would use their position to help secure a liquor license. All this inter-agency volleying seems like it would lead to a lot of dropped balls. Perhaps we need one agency to keep tabs on all the players on Beacon Hill, be they lobbyists, friends of politicians with business before the Legislature, or just a good old-fashioned crooked salon?

I'm sure Gov. Deval Patrick's 12-member ethics task force will figure it out at one of their closed-door meetings.

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