Mariano to DiZoglio: pound sand 

Speaker rips auditor’s effort to probe House workings 

IN A SHARPLY WORDED letter, Speaker Ron Mariano told state Auditor Diana DiZoglio her plan to audit the House of Representatives is “entirely without legal support or precedent” and that he has no intention of cooperating with it. 

In his letter, which the speaker’s office released at noon on Friday, Mariano tells DiZoglio that her claim of authority to audit the House “runs contrary to multiple, explicit provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution” and “violates basic separation of powers principles that the Supreme Judicial Court has called ‘fundamental…to our form of government,’ and interferes with what that same Court opined are the ‘exclusive’ and ‘absolute’ powers of the House of Representatives.” 

Mariano’s missive comes a little more than three weeks after DiZoglio sent a letter to him and Senate President Karen Spilka declaring her intention to conduct a sweeping audit of both legislative chambers. 

Spilka made clear earlier this month that she does not plan to submit to an audit from DiZoglio’s office. 

The unified stance of the two legislative leaders could set up a high-profile legal battle, as DiZoglio has said she would take the case for auditing the Legislature to court, if necessary. 

In a statement, DiZoglio said she plans to move forward with her audit, regardless of Mariano’s rejection of the idea.

“I find it disappointing that the Speaker is fighting an audit of what is happening in the people’s house, where the people’s business is conducted, using the people’s money,” she said. “We are not asking for permission and will continue conducting our audit as planned to help increase transparency, accountability, and equity for everyday families.”

DiZoglio has said it has been more than 100 years since the state auditor carried out a review of the Legislature. But the Methuen Democrat made clear that she intended to go much further than an 1922 audit of the Legislature.

Her March 7 letter to Mariano and Spilka said her review of the Legislature “will include but not be limited to the review of access to budgetary, hiring, spending and procurement information, as well as information regarding active and pending legislation, the process for appointing committees, the adoption and suspension of House and Senate rules and the policies and procedures of the House and Senate.”

In a statement earlier this month, Spilka said the Senate maintains sole authority over its own operations. 

Under the Massachusetts Constitution and as the separation of powers clause dictates, the Senate is required to manage its own business and set its own rules,” she said. “Those rules require that the Senate undergoes an audit every fiscal year by a certified public accounting firm experienced in auditing governmental entities and provide that audit to the public. Further, Senate business is made public through journals, calendars and recordings of each session, while payroll and other financial information is publicly available on the Comptroller’s website. If anyone wishes to view this information, it is available to the public.”

In his letter, Mariano also pointed to publicly available online records of all House expenditures, and an annual audit of all House accounts, which is filed with the House clerk and “available for public inspection.” 

While DiZoglio has railed against secrecy and what she says are the closed-doors ways of the Legislature, Mariano sought to turn that on its head and frame her move as an effort to usurp citizens’ voice in government. 

“The people of the Commonwealth are the final arbiters of the performance of their duly elected representatives,” he wrote in his letter to her. “As those representatives, we safeguard these constitutional protections not because of institutional jealousies but the Massachusetts Constitution guarantees ‘the people of this Commonwealth…the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves.’” 

Mariano also sent DiZoglio a copy of letter from the House counsel, James Kennedy, advising him on the auditor’s request. 

“My conclusion is that the Auditor lacks any legal authority to conduct an audit of the General Court [Legislature], or either branch thereof,” Kennedy writes.

He said the statute governing the auditor’s office makes clear that her authority extends only to executive branch departments. Even if one accepted the “incorrect notion” that the statute extended implied authority to audit the House of Representatives, Kennedy said, without the consent of the House, such a provision would violate the state Constitution’s separation of powers. 

Kennedy also said the 1922 audit DiZoglio has cited was little more than an accounting of revenue and expenditures, and nothing resembling “a performance audit in today’s meaning.” 

In her early months in office, DiZoglio has announced plans to audit the state convention center authority, the MBTA, and investigate use of non-disclosure agreements across state government. But nothing has ruffled feathers on Beacon Hill more than the declaration that she would look into the inner workings of the Legislature. 

Although the Legislature is not explicitly mentioned in state law as an area of government subject to audit by DiZoglio’s office, she said that does mean she’s prohibited from examining it. 

DiZoglio’s predecessor, Suzanne Bump, maintained that the office was not authorized to audit the Legislature. 

DiZoglio took office in January vowing to shine a light into corners of state government that have resisted transparency. She brought a long history of challenging Beacon Hill power brokers. That includes her years-long campaign to end the use of non-disclosure agreements in state government. 

Meet the Author

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.

DiZoglio’s Beacon Hill career began as a legislative aide in the House. She signed a nondisclosure agreement after being fired from her position amid rumors she engaged in inappropriate behavior with a lawmaker in an otherwise empty House chamber during a late-night party in then-Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office.  

She went on to win election to the House and then to a Senate seat representing the Merrimack Valley. DiZoglio became known for speaking her mind, including challenging DeLeo over his handling of the issue of non-disclosure agreements.