Murray’s defense fund grows with insider donations
Former Senate president’s account used to pay legal fees from Probation probe
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
TWO DAYS AFTER she left office, capping a 22-year career in the state Legislature, former Senate President Therese Murray in January established a legal defense fund that has since accrued $17,500 from a lobbying group, a former Senate colleague and a former advertising executive.
There are no limits on contributions to such funds, which are regulated by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and unlike campaign accounts, they can receive donations directly from businesses. Expenditures from the attorney fund do not need to be disclosed but records need to be kept, according to Jason Tait, spokesman for the office that regulates campaign accounts. Receipts to the fund are reported and available to the public.
Murray’s fund received $5,000 from former Somerset Sen. Joan Menard, and $10,000 from advertising magnate Jack Connors, the founder of Hill Holiday.
Murray occupied one of the three most powerful positions in Massachusetts government, and she and her House counterpart – Speaker Robert DeLeo – made about $102,000 each last year. That put them slightly below the average annual salary of construction managers, veterinarians and political science college educators, according to federal data regarding wages in Massachusetts.
In 2014 and prior years, DeLeo paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign account to his attorney Robert Popeo’s law firm, as he fended off accusations – but no charges – from federal prosecutors in connection with their job-rigging case against three former probation officials.
As of June 30, Murray’s campaign account had a balance of about $26,000.
An aide to Murray in her new consultancy venture Mass Ignite said her fund “was set up to help pay for previously incurred legal fees.” The aide who previously worked for Murray in the Senate, Samantha Dallaire, did not provide any additional information and subsequently stopped returning a reporter’s inquiries.
A prominent defense attorney who represented former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi on federal corruption charges, Kiley is also a principal at the lobbying firm Travaglini, Eisenberg & Kiley. Murray’s predecessor as Senate president, Robert Travaglini is a lobbyist at the firm, which contributed $2,500 to her fund.
“It’s an expression of support for an individual in an investigation,” Kiley said of such contributions generally.
As part of an ethics reform package that became law soon after DiMasi’s resignation from the speakership, lawmakers created a framework for pols to raise and disclose money for legal expenses, inaugural events and recounts.
Along with DeLeo, Murray was entangled in last year’s federal prosecution of former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, who were convicted of rigging a supposedly merit-based hiring process to send jobs to politically connected applicants.
The prison sentences of O’Brien and former deputy Elizabeth Tavares were stayed pending appeal and the other defendant did not receive jail time.
Neither top lawmaker was charged, though the operations of both offices were discussed in detail as legislative aides, House members and former Sen. Jack Hart testified at the trial. Even without charges, such proceedings in federal court can result in legal bills.
“That’s the obvious big one, sure,” said Kiley when asked if the fund was used for legal costs associated with the trial.
Kiley confirmed that the attorney who represented Murray in the probation matter is Kathy Weinman, of Collora LLP.
Messages left for Weinman, who specializes in clients “faced with governmental investigations and enforcement actions,” went unreturned.
Weinman is a former Boston Bar Association president and, according to the firm’s page, she was appointed by the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy to serve on an advisory committee recommending the appointment of the U.S. Attorney and other federal justice officers in 2009.
Carmen Ortiz was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November 2009 as the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts.
A colleague of Weinman’s at Collora indicated no information would be forthcoming from the firm.
“Nobody’s going to talk to you about any of that so you probably should stop calling,” said the man.
Murray last session was about to bump up against the eight-year limit on the Senate president’s term and she opted against seeking reelection, choosing to launch a private sector venture.Dallaire said Mass Ignite “is going very well. We are working on several interesting international economic development opportunities that highlight the strengths of the Massachusetts economy.”
Murray’s consultancy is using office space at the public relations and lobbying firm Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.