Money talks

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 6, 2009

DeLeo's campaign committee, in response to Phoenix inquiries, provided a statement saying that all this is perfectly kosher; that donations come from people with a wide range of interests, and that "All donations are reported and made available for public inspection in accordance with state law."

True — but then it's also fair to inspect them. And with enough diligence, one can group the vast majority of DeLeo's contributions into purpose-driven chunks — and, unsurprisingly, most of the bundles of financial joy were brought to him during the spring months, when he was fashioning the fiscal-year budget that passed in late June.

At the end of March and beginning of April, for example, he was showered with contributions from mental-health and substance-abuse providers. At around the same time, representatives of at least two dozen top benefactors of state-tourism spending — including the state's regional convention and visitors bureaus, major hotels, event organizers, and even the Duck Tours — pitched in about $6000.

Giant Glass executives gave $2000 on March 4; executives from seven ambulance companies gave at the same time. Executives from Partners Health Care, Mass General Hospital, the Massachusetts Hospital Association, and others all gave in the final days of February. Commerce Insurance, SBLI, and Hanover Insurance executives all gave in May.

But the most striking group gave at the very start of 2008. More than five dozen ophthalmologists pitched in to start DeLeo's year off with $23,200 worth of contributions. Eye surgeons have had a lot of interests on Beacon Hill, including the continuing issue of whether eye screenings and surgery are covered under the state's health-care plan.

Those ophthalmologists, by January 10, had given about twice as much to DeLeo as residents of his district, in Winthrop and Revere, would give to him all year. It would not be unreasonable for his constituents to wonder whether DeLeo feels more obligated to their needs, or the eye doctors'.

Hidden connections
Nowhere in the state records would you get any inkling that a group with like interests had bundled together that kind of money and handed it over en masse to one of the most powerful officials in the state, just as he set to work on the state budget. While the Commonwealth has greatly improved its processes for gathering and disseminating information, there is still a long way to go to make the data useful.

Registered lobbyists are required to disclose all campaign contributions, which are posted on the secretary of the Commonwealth's Web site. But these are self-reported and unverified; the Web site cautions that, for complete information, one should go to the OCPF.

OCPF, however, simply posts the contributions as submitted by the campaign committees, and does not require registered lobbyists to be identified as such. In fact, the occupations of contributors are only spottily included, and frequently vague. Committees are required to attempt to acquire the information from anyone who gives $200 or more, but that usually means sending a letter asking for the information, with little follow-up. A year after their checks were cashed, then, only a few of the 60-plus ophthalmologists who gave to DeLeo are identified as such on the OCPF Web site. The same holds true for lobbyists, who, at best, are usually identified only as attorneys or by their firms' names. Unless one is armed with a list of registered lobbyists, connecting the dots is nearly impossible. In fact, the Phoenix used the OCPF and secretary's sites, and a variety of resources, including Google searches, and still had trouble identifying large numbers of donors.

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