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IG Report on State Senate Prez takes a convenient dive

Fails to deal with tourism controversy
February 15, 2008 5:56:19 PM

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After a full year investigating a Boston Phoenix article about State Senate President Therese Murray, the state’s Inspector General released a report today finding “no evidence of impropriety” in the legislature’s awarding of $11 million worth of contracts for international-tourism marketing.

The report, however, fails to even address many of the key elements of the Phoenix story, while agreeing in almost every respect with the article’s claims. It seems Inspector General Gregory Sullivan — a former legislative colleague of Murray, whose budget is controlled by the legislature she oversees — goes out of his way in the report to avoid addressing — let alone criticizing — many of the most important actions described in the article.

Sullivan’s report disputes or contradicts only a few minor claims in the article — one of which — a mention of Murray having traveled to Italy — the Phoenix retracted two weeks after the story ran, almost one year ago. Nevertheless, the IG’s office “reviewed Senator Murray’s passport…and found no evidence of any entries into Italy.”

But while conceding that she had not, as we erroneously reported, gone to Italy, the Phoenix stood by the broader assertion in the article — which Sullivan’s report failed to even address — that:

…Murray had become personal friends with state tourism officials and industry leaders, who regularly took Murray on state-paid international junkets to promote Massachusetts, say people in the field.

The 3500-word Phoenix article, published in February 2007, described the process through which Murray and representative Daniel Bosley privatized the international-tourism marketing function previously run by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) — and ensured that the contract would be awarded to an individual named William MacDougall. As the article said:

“If your average taxpayer knew that you can take $11 million, give it to a couple of friends, with no oversight or supervision, and get away with it, they would go crazy,” says one individual who was directly involved in the bidding process for the state grant. “But that’s what happened.”

Murray and Bosley championed MacDougall, the article reported, even though he had been forced to resign from MOTT after the state auditor’s office accused him in 2001 of inappropriate use of state money, failure to report gifts, personal use of state frequent-flyer miles, and thousands of dollars of questionable reimbursements.
The IG’s report mentions nothing about these apparent irregularities of MacDougall, his association with Murray and others involved in helping steer the contract to him, nor other objections and complaints that had been raised about him in the Phoenix article.

Nor does it address allegations that MacDougall paid more than $1.1 million on Web site development, when his original proposal called for $35,000.
Regarding the awarding of the contract, almost everything in the IG’s report concurs with the Phoenix’s version of events. Those aspects of the story that the report does not specifically corroborate, neither does it refute.

With one exception: The IG challenges the reason given by the Phoenix for the abrupt resignations of all three board members of the agency — the Massachusetts International Trade Council, Inc. (MITCI) — charged, by statute, with awarding the contract.

The Phoenix speculated that, although they never said so, the directors may have left because of pressure over this contract decision. Two of the three directors held full-time jobs that depended in large part on Murray’s power as Ways and Means chair. The IG’s report offers a different explanation, rooted in administrative technicalities.

Regardless, Murray and Bosley then gave the contract to MacDougall through a direct earmark in a supplemental-budget bill. They ultimately appropriated $11 million to him over three years.

Those appropriations claimed that MacDougall’s non-profit entity had been chosen under the statutory bidding process, but this was not true — that bidding process was never completed after the directors’ resignations. The IG’s report corroborates this.

The IG’s report also repeatedly omits the central roles played by Murray and Bosley in the events it describes. For example, it says that “the state senate” put the first $2 million initiative into an economic-revitalization package, but does not say that Murray introduced it.

And, while claiming to have accounted for all of MacDougall’s expenditures — which he refused to detail for either the Romney or Patrick administrations, leading to the ultimate termination of the contract — the IG’s report fails to provide any significant accounting for large payments. For example, MacDougall paid more than a million dollars to his United Kingdom representative (with whom he had done business when working at MOTT), with no breakdown of how much was spent on advertising, printing, fees, or other uses.

Many other portions of the Phoenix article are simply never mentioned in the IG’s report, including questions about whether the contract observed provisions of the Pacheco Law against privatization; and a suggestion that the chair of an opposing bidder was rewarded with state funding after agreeing to a cooperative role.

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