Money talks

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 6, 2009

Others who relied heavily on lobbyists as a percentage of their fundraising are primarily those with the most power and influence, like Harkins — lobbyists don't waste much cash on back-benchers, freshmen, and (most useless on Beacon Hill) Republicans. Other House members who rely heavily on lobbyists all chair important committees: Steven Walsh, community development; David Torrisi, labor; Frank Smizik, environment; John Binienda, revenue; Daniel Bosley, economic development; Michael Costello, public safety; and Brian Dempsey, telecommunications and energy. In the State Senate, it is Majority Leader Fred Berry and children-and-families chair Karen Spilka.

Three-quarters of registered lobbyists' contributions go to state legislators, according to the Phoenix analysis. But others share in the booty. Murray received more than $25,000 from them; Governor Deval Patrick, $17,000; and Attorney General Martha Coakley, $14,000. Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty took more than $6000, a little more than Mayor Tom Menino.

Still, not everybody does it. State Senator Mark Montigny of New Bedford takes no lobbyist money. Several representatives have the same policy. They are the exceptions.

Most legislators don't seem too picky about who they are taking money from, either. Lobbyist Francis Mara, for instance, arranges the fundraising efforts for one of his main clients, Arbella, and contributes along with the bundle. Mara, a former state representative, left public office in 1996 after being fined for — believe it or not — taking gifts from insurance lobbyists.

Anyone surprised that the next Speaker accepts bundled contributions from someone like Mara on behalf of an insurance company might not want to dig too deeply into the world of Beacon Hill lobbying. You'll find, for instance, that some of the leading figures are all alumni of the ethics scandal that brought down former House Speaker Charles Flaherty. Flaherty, as the State Ethics Commission disposition agreement put it, "accepted and received gratuities from lobbyists, lobbying groups, and individuals before the Legislature" — including Edward O'Sullivan and John E. Murphy, who both run successful Boston lobbying firms, and developer Jay Cashman, whose influence has again been called into question in relation to DiMasi. And, oh yes, Flaherty himself, head of Capitol Consulting, runs one of the most successful lobbying businesses in the state.

Naturally, Flaherty's downfall brought calls for reform and transparency in state government. DiMasi's demise, along with other Beacon Hill scandals, has prompted the same demands. The reform is clearly needed. Whether it will come is another question.

For more data from the Phoenix analysis, see the "Talking Politics" blog at thePhoenix.com/blogs/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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