Ethics Commission responds to Wolf

Executive director says state senator never told there was no conflict

The state Ethics Commission issued this response to contentions by state Sen. Dan Wolf that the commission erred in its determination that a conflict of interest existed in his ownership of Cape Air. The ruling can be found here.

In accordance with 930 CMR 3.01 (8)(c), we are issuing this statement to correct inaccurate comments made by Senator Daniel Wolf regarding advice he received from the State Ethics Commission.

On Friday, August 2, 2013, the Commission issued a formal advisory opinion to Senator Wolf on how Section 7 of the state conflict of interest law applies to him. Section 7 prohibits state employees, including legislators, from having a financial interest in a state contract. In that opinion, the Commission advised Senator Wolf that, to comply with the requirements of Section 7, he must either: (1) fully divest his financial interests in Cape Air, the airline in which he has an ownership interest of at least 23%; or (2) terminate Cape Air’s contracts with the Massachusetts Port Authority; or (3) resign his position as State Senator. For purposes of the conflict of interest law, Massport is a state agency. A copy of the Commission’s advisory opinion is attached.

In November 2010, shortly after Senator Wolf was elected as Senator, the Commission’s General Counsel orally provided advice on how the conflict of interest law applied to Senator Wolf. That advice was provided to Senator Wolf’s aide, who had requested advice on Senator Wolf’s behalf. The Commission’s General Counsel followed up that discussion by summarizing her advice in an email to the same aide, dated November 23, 2010. That email stated in part: “I also advised you to check whether Cape Air has any contracts with the state, since Mr. Wolf is not allowed to have any interests, direct or indirect, in state contracts.” Senator Wolf did not follow up on that advice, nor did he inform the Commission of Cape Air’s contracts with Massport.

In 2013, Senator Wolf initiated discussions with the Commission’s legal staff because of his intention to run for Governor. On April 5, 2013, Senator Wolf met with the Commission lawyers and was advised at that time that if his airline had contracts with Massport, he would have prohibited financial interests in state contracts. Senator Wolf agreed to provide copies of Cape Air’s agreements with Massport to the Commission.

In his dealings with the Commission, Senator Wolf was never led to believe that no conflict existed; in fact, he was advised that he likely had a substantial problem under the conflict law, and that he would be given specific advice after he provided the Massport contracts. Senator Wolf provided the contracts, but announced his intention to run for Governor before receiving that advice.

“The Commission has interpreted and applied Section 7 (and its county and municipal counterparts) consistently for more than 30 years. The Commission has issued approximately 50 formal advisory opinions on this section alone,” stated Karen L. Nober, the Commission’s Executive Director. “The Section 7 exemption for legislators is particularly narrow. For a legislator to avail himself of that exemption, the contract in question must be competitively bid and the legislator’s ownership interest, including the interests of his immediate family, must be less than 10%. The Commission most recently opined on this issue in 2011, advising a newly elected state legislator that his family business could no longer contract with the state, even though his family had contracted with the state agency for 30 years. While we understand that this situation creates difficult choices for Senator Wolf, there is no basis for the Commission to give him special or different treatment.”