Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Indicting the system

Central to former Speaker Sal DiMasi's defense in his ongoing public corruption trial is the argument that Sal's actions were merely par for the course, business as usual on Beacon Hill.  Lobbyists were at the Speaker all the time, his lawyers argue.  Political horse-trading is an indispensable part of governance.  DiMasi is merely the scapegoat chosen to take the fall for a system that the public has been content to ignore for decades, and now suddenly finds distasteful.

There might just be something to that argument.  The State House News's account of today's proceedings at the federal courthouse could double as an indictment of the system that Sal's attorneys want the jury to believe victimized their client.  And a convincing indictment it is, reaching from the House to the Senate to the Governor's office.  Excerpts [my bolding and brackets]:
In the Patrick administration's haste to pass a borrowing bill in 2007, shortly after Gov. Deval Patrick took office, officials agreed to include a $15 million software contract favored by former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, even though Patrick's staff had previously sought to bar non-emergency special projects, a former Patrick aide testified Tuesday.

David Simas, who was Patrick's deputy chief of staff in 2007, said the administration had urged lawmakers to move quickly on what officials called an "immediate needs" bond bill to prevent the state from losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds and from forcing major state projects to grind to a halt...

Simas said that as the Patrick administration sought to convince Massachusetts lawmakers to move the emergency bond bill early in 2007, the administration received word that DiMasi had hoped to include a $15 million project for performance management software, an application intended to help state agencies and the Legislature track data in various programs.

Despite attempts to limit specific projects, Simas said the administration relented - in part on the recommendation of then assistant secretary of administration and finance Jay Gonzalez [who is now secretary] - and included the project, as well as a similar $4.9 million data project for the attorney general's office sought by Senate President Robert Travaglini.

When DiMasi's chief of staff Maryann Calia was informed that the performance management project would be included in the Patrick administration's bond bill, Simas testified that she was "appreciative" and said she would ensure that the proposal would bypass the traditional legislative process for most borrowing bills. Rather than sending the bond bill through the bonding committee, Simas said, Calia promised that she would ensure the bill would go directly to the House Ways and Means Committee.

"This is an important step in ensuring very quick action," Simas said, reading from a March 2007 email he sent to Patrick's chief of staff at the time, Joan Wallace Benjamin...

The bill included $15 million "[f]or a new statewide performance management system to enable all state agencies and departments to manage their performance by leveraging the vast amount of data that resides in numerous agency applications; provided, that this performance management system shall provide a single platform for reporting, analysis, scorecards, dashboards, event management." That language, according to several prosecution witnesses, was supplied by officials working on behalf of Cognos.

The bond bill emerged in the House on March 21, the same day Travaglini resigned his post as Senate president and passed the Senate mantle to Sen. Therese Murray. The House passed the bill that day unanimously, after members cast aside a series of Republican amendments offered by Minority Leader Bradley Jones on party line votes. Among the rejected amendments was a Jones amendment that would require bond bills to be vetted by the bonding committee.

During floor debate that day, Jones said that if not for the Republican Party, the Legislature would not debate anything. Rep. David Flynn, the House's bonding committee chair, responded that he had recommended bypassing his own committee because of the bond bill's "emergency nature."

Just prior to the House's consideration of the bill, DiMasi had been in the chamber to preside while Travaglini delivered an unusual farewell address to the House. When Travaglini departed, Rep. Thomas Petrolati, then the speaker pro tem, informed members that the bond bill would be taken up immediately.

The next day, on Murray's first full day as president, the Senate took up the bond bill as the first order of business after setting a special election date to fill Travaglini's seat. Richard Tisei, the Senate minority leader at the time, immediately questioned why no public hearing had been held on the bill. Murray pointed to the House, which she said had bypassed the bonding committee and sent the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired at the time by Rep. [now Speaker] Robert DeLeo...

The governor signed the bill on March 23, just two days after it was first considered by the House. The bill authorized the administration to spend $15 million on a contract for performance management software. In August 2007, the administration awarded that contract to Cognos Corp.
 Phew.   Sal was the only one "getting a piece," as they say, and so he is properly the one in the dock.  But his corruption had plenty of enablers, passive and active.  One hopes most or even all of these folks were unknowing enablers, but even if they were the narrative above lays bare a system that too easily lends itself to the variety of abuse of power allegedly exploited by DiMasi to line his own pockets.

The longer this trial goes on, the more I hope its lessons will penetrate and our voters will finally wake up to the consequences of their continued support for some of the bold names above.

2 comments:

  1. mayanne calia is still making 100,000$ dont worry-
    she is in another state-run hack job, is she qualified??????????????and like sal, will get her pension and live very comfortably!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It appears that Senator Travaglini wouldn't play ball with Sal DiMasi. It's unbelievable how the House took up the bill the same day and minute after Travaglini's farewell speech.So the next day Seante President Murray takes up bill first order of business, it and the following day the Governor signs it.So what does that say about the new Senate President/Governor??

    Don't have to be Einstein to figure that one out.

    Too bad Senator Travaglini decided to leave, I feel he kept things under control.

    ReplyDelete

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