DiMasi: ‘I’ve paid my debt to society’
Says he should be allowed to lobby despite federal conviction
FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER Salvatore DiMasi on Tuesday made a public appeal for a “second chance” after his conviction on federal corruption charges eight years ago, resuming his battle with Secretary of State William Galvin over the Democrat’s quest to return to Beacon Hill as a lobbyist.
DiMasi, a former North End Democrat who led the House from 2004 until 2009, said he wants the chance to build a new career advocating on issues like homelessness and prison reform. Galvin denied his application to register as a lobbyist in March base on his conviction, but DiMasi appealed that decision and appeared before a hearing officer Tuesday to formally make his case.
“Whatever you think I did, I think I’ve paid my debt to society and I think I can get a second chance to be a contributing citizen so that I can benefit the citizens of Massachusetts,” DiMasi told reporters after the hearing. “That’s all I always wanted to do during my career, as you know, passing all of that monumental legislation, health care for all. So basically I feel like that’s my purpose in life, so hopefully I can do that.”
DiMasi, who was granted an early release from prison due to his battle with cancer, said he was feeling “pretty well” and looking forward to Thanksgiving. He was joined at the hearing by his wife Debbie DiMasi and his lawyer Meredith Fierro.
DiMasi resigned from the Legislature in January 2009 under a cloud of suspicion that ended in his conviction in 2011 in federal court for accepting kickbacks in exchange for steering lucrative state contracts to a Burlington software company, Cognos.
Galvin’s lobbying division argued Tuesday that DiMasi’s criminal conviction merits an automatic disqualification from lobbying on Beacon Hill for 10 years under state law, but Fierro said Galvin was “overstepping his authority.”
The law, Fierro argued, only speaks to criminal convictions in state court for violations of state lobbying, campaign finance, and ethics laws. The law, she said, says nothing about federal crimes or conduct proved in federal court that could be deemed in violation of state law.
“Even if there is an omission in the statutory language, whether intentional or inadvertent, it is not for the secretary of state to fill in his own language,” Fierro said. “The secretary is not a lawmaker and he does not have the power to unilaterally amend the statute, yet that is exactly what the lobbyist division has done in order to reach its desired result, which is to disqualify Mr. DiMasi from registering as a lobbyist.”
Fierro requested from the hearing officer an expedited decision within 45 days. DiMasi’s case is being heard by Peter Cassidy, who is typically an attorney with Galvin’s Securities Division.
“This has been going on long enough already, so if we do not have a favorable decision we would like to get to the court as quickly as possible,” Fierro said to reporters.
Attorney Marissa Soto-Ortiz, who has been representing the lobbying division in DiMasi’s case, said that accepting Fierro’s interpretation of the state lobbying laws would “result in an absurd and unworkable result.”
She said it’s common for enforcement agencies like the secretary of state’s office to be given “deference” in how they interpret state statutes, and argued that DiMasi’s federal crimes were clear violations of state law as well.
Fierro said that prior to 2009 the secretary of state had the discretion to disqualify a lobbyist applicant based on conduct and after a confidential hearing, but that provision was repealed by lawmakers and replaced with the automatic disqualification provisions.
She said legislators subsequently rejected an amendment offered by Minority Leader Brad Jones to make any conviction in state or federal court a disqualifying offense for lobbying.
That debate, part of a larger conversation over a new ethics law, unfolded shortly after DeLeo was elected speaker, winning a succession fight against Rep. John Rogers, and taking over for DiMasi.
Galvin’s office has also floated the “alternate theory” that DiMasi’s application could have been rejected based on his failure to lobby in 2005 and 2006 when he was accepting money in exchange for advocating for state contracts for Cognos.
Though DiMasi was a legislator at the time, Soto-Ortiz has argued that his actions met the definition of lobbying, which he was not registered to do. Fierro told Cassidy that this argument should be dismissed because not only was DiMasi a member of the Legislature at the time, but Galvin’s office never convened a confidential hearing required under state law if it planned to pursue a civil lobbying violation against DiMasi.
Soto-Ortiz said that such a hearing would be called if and when it became necessary.
“We clearly made it known that a hearing would be able to be called,” she told Cassidy.There is no timeline for Cassidy to make his ruling, but Fierro asked that he make his decision by early January.