In Galvin-DiMasi showdown, who’s the good guy?

Old friends now clash over lobbying law

BEACON HILL IS a funny place, and so it is that a backslapping former House speaker convicted of corruption charges is being cast as the good guy in a battle against a dour bureaucrat with an axe to grind. 

Sal DiMasi left the public stage 10 years ago in disgrace, a once-powerful House speaker sent packing to federal prison after being convicted of taking a $65,000 payment to steer a multimillion-dollar state software contract to a company. It was about as clear a case as there is of a public official selling the services of his elected office. 

After developing cancer while in prison, DiMasi was granted compassionate release in 2016, cutting short his 8-year sentence. With his cancer in remission, DiMasi looked to practice a different form of the same thing he’d done for decades — wheeling and dealing on Beacon Hill. This time, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of lots of other former pols and work as a lobbyist. (Indeed, his two immediate predecessors as speaker, both also convicted of felony charges, now work at the State House as lobbyists.) 

Back in the day: Photos from the mid-1980s of the once close foursome of Boston state reps, clockwise from upper left, Sal DiMasi, Bill Galvin, Tom Finneran, and Angelo Scaccia.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who oversees lobbying registration and rules, objected, saying a 2009 state law barred anyone convicted on public corruption charges of working as a lobbyist for 10 years. DiMasi challenged that, arguing that the law specifically states that the prohibition applies to those convicted of state charges, not federal offenses. In July 2020, a Superior Court judge sided with DiMasi. Galvin appealed that ruling, a case that the Supreme Judicial Court will now hear. 

Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas writes today that Galvin’s move “smacks more of a vendetta than good government.” He points out that the 10-year ban on lobbying would expire anyway in DiMasi’s case this June. But he doesn’t pinpoint any grounds for Galvin looking to exact payback against DiMasi. 

Galvin has argued that it’s ridiculous to think lawmakers somehow wanted to give those convicted of federal corruption charges an exemption from the lobbying restrictions, but the earlier court decision ruled that’s precisely what the wording of the 2009 statute does. 

Lucas says Galvin and DiMasi, who both entered elected office as Boston state reps in 1979, could not be “more different personalities.” He calls DiMasi an “outgoing, warm and popular personality.” Those aren’t terms often applied to Galvin, whom he calls a “political loner” who “has never forgotten or forgiven a slight.” 

What he leaves out is that Galvin and DiMasi were once State House pals, part of a foursome of Boston state reps, along with Tom Finneran and Angleo Scaccia, who regularly huddled at North End restaurants to chew over plates of pasta and the latest State House machinations. 

Asked two years ago about the lobbying showdown pitting the one-time friends against each other, several former House members said they knew of nothing personal that prompted Galvin to go after DiMasi, chalking it up instead to the seriousness with which Galvin takes his job. 

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Though Galvin may be a stickler for detail, one judge has already ruled that he got this one wrong. 

Meanwhile, though DiMasi has never expressed full contrition for his crimes, Lucas casts him as the victim in the saga. “[H]aving gone through what he has gone through,” he writes, “and having paid the price — he deserves a second chance.”