Wolf to stay in Senate, seeks ethics exemption
Commission grants reprieve until at least Sept. 19
In an abrupt about-face, state Sen. Dan Wolf will be staying in his seat while he asks the Ethics Commission to rewrite the regulations that triggered him to suspend his campaign for governor and go to the brink of resigning because of his ownership of Cape Air.
The Harwich Democrat had announced his intention to resign tomorrow and suspend his gubernatorial campaign unless the Ethics Commission changed its opinion that his company’s agreement to pay landing fees at Logan Airport constituted a no-bid contract under state ethics law.
A statement issued by Wolf on Wednesday indicated he does not plan to dispute the Ethics Commission’s interpretation of the law but instead is planning to file a petition, along with other private and public officials, asking the agency to draft a regulation that would allow businesses owned by elected officials to enter into agreements with the state that were not intended to be perceived as conflicts when the laws were written.
State Rep. Dan Winslow, Republican of Norfolk, said he is a co-petitioner with Wolf but declined to say who else is on board. While he deferred questions about the substance of the petition, Winslow said the effort is about “good government,” not partisanship. Winslow also said the Ethics Commission’s ruling in Wolf’s case was correct on the law as written. He said the group is asking the agency to create a regulatory exemption, something they’ve done in the past and are empowered to do under law.
“I don’t think anybody quarrels that the Ethics Commission has done its job,” said Winslow, a former judge and chief legal counsel to former Gov. Mitt Romney. “What the petition is seeking is a narrowly tailored regulatory exemption with due regard to prevent corruption. . . We don’t want to elevate form over substance where we deprive ourselves of good people with private sector experience.”
Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday called the Ethics Commission ruling on Wolf “technically right” but “practically odd,” according to the State House News Service.
The Ethics Commission’s ruling, issued on Aug. 2 in response to an inquiry by Wolf, gave the two-term senator 30 days to either end Cape Air’s arrangement with Massport to land at Logan; divest himself of his 23 percent ownership stake in Cape Air; or resign his Senate seat and end his run for governor. A commission spokesman subsequently conceded the agency could not prevent Wolf from running for governor, only from holding office.
Wolf said he wants to resume his campaign for governor but intends to hold off until he receives final word on his appeal to the Ethics Commission. If the commission does not revise its ruling or craft an exemption, Wolf will have to step down from his Senate seat. The only way he could hold office in the future would be by divesting his holdings or by convincing the Legislature to make changes to the ethics law that would either further define no-bid contracts or carve out an exemption. Wolf has said emphatically he will not challenge the Ethics Commission in court.
A spokesman for the Ethics Commission said Wolf has been granted an extension on the order for him to comply with the ruling at least until the agency’s Sept. 19 hearing. There is no formal appeal process in the statute to challenge an opinion once it has been issued by the full Ethics Commission.Wolf is “requesting a regulatory exemption to allow him and others like him to handle their businesses while in office as elected officials,” said David Giannotti. “The commission has the authority to promulgate reasonable exemptions.” Giannotti said the Ethics Commission has written regulatory exemptions at least three times in the last 10 years, including clarifications to the ethics reform laws passed in 2010.
The Ethics Commission ruling said the landing fee arrangement constituted a no-bid contract under any legal definition, a decision Giannotti had said was a “threshold question” for the opinion.