Senate strips Tran of his leadership position
Bars Republican from his own office for using staffers on campaign
THE MASSACHUSETTS SENATE on Thursday stripped Fitchburg Republican Sen. Dean Tran of his leadership position and ordered him physically separated from his staff after the Senate Ethics Committee found that Tran used Senate staffers and public resources for his reelection campaign.
The 15-page Ethics Committee report, based on an investigation by the Office of the Senate Counsel, details numerous instances in which Tran forced his taxpayer-funded staff to conduct his campaign work, including fundraising. It portrays Tran as a senator who valued his campaign activities above his official work.
The committee recommended that Tran be removed from his position as assistant minority whip for the rest of the legislative session. Tran’s base pay is $66,256, and the whip position comes with an annual stipend of $35,000.
The committee also recommended that Tran be physically removed from his Senate office and relocated to space elsewhere in the State House. He is allowed to communicate with his staff – who will stay in his current office – only via email and about official Senate business.
“The Committee’s work was difficult and accomplished during challenging times,” Lesser said. “While the report speaks for itself, I would add that the Committee’s investigation was thorough and its conclusions were unanimous.”
Tran, in an email, disputed the report’s conclusion. “The Senate Counsel report is riddled with lies and hearsay to fit a narrative and there was no opportunity to challenge the credibility until the report was published,” Tran said. Tran said he only saw the report an hour before it was released.
“I was personally attacked in (the) 2017 special election, they tried to attack my voting record in the 2018 election, and I expected the same this year, but what I didn’t expect was for the attack to come by way of the internal and partisan process through an anonymous letter about 2018,” Tran said.
Senate President Karen Spilka said the chamber vote to discipline Tran was bipartisan and unanimous. Due to coronavirus, the full Senate has not been meeting in person. A vote was taken during a bipartisan caucus that was held virtually, then the resolution was adopted on the floor of the Senate during an informal session with four members in attendance.
“Because of the careful and deliberate work of the Ethics Committee, there is overwhelming evidence of violations of the rules of the Senate on the part of Sen. Tran,” Spilka said in a statement.
Tran was elected to the state Senate in 2017 in a special election and won reelection in 2018.
According to the report, the Senate Office of Human Resources and the Senate Counsel began receiving complaints about Tran almost from the time he took office, and those complaints have continued until now, despite Tran being warned and his staff being given ethics training.
According to the report, while Tran was running for reelection in 2018, he had seven employees on his Senate payroll. Two employees kept Tran’s Boston and district offices open, usually working alone. The other five worked primarily on the campaign, operating out of the Republican Party’s coordinated campaign office. Tran made comments that the campaign staffers were “saving” the jobs of his Senate employees, according to the report. Because Tran’s campaign and Senate worlds were so intertwined, one staffer did not even know that three aides hired in 2018 were actually Senate employees, even though the aides were theoretically hired to work with that staffer.
In one exit interview with human resources, a Senate employee working for Tran said a senior staffer got upset with the employee for not performing certain campaign tasks. He detailed the door knocking he and others were expected to perform for the campaign. Witnesses said Tran staffers were at the GOP’s coordinated campaign office regularly during business hours, and it was an open secret that “the boys,” as they were called, were working on the campaign while on the public payroll. One staffer said he collected campaign signatures and did “massive amounts of door knocking” for the campaign, while doing official work from the campaign office.
Senate employees did things like stuffing envelopes with fundraising materials and helping donors fill out forms at fundraisers. Tran’s staff helped organize his campaign fundraisers.
One Republican Party staffer actually reached out to the Senate counsel to discuss the campaign activity by Tran’s staff. Republican officials warned Tran and his staff about not campaigning on state time, with no effect.
Tran, in meeting with the Senate counsel, said his entire staff “volunteered” for his 2018 campaign, and he was not aware of any staff campaigning during business hours. He claimed to be surprised that two of his Senate staffers were working in the campaign office during the day throughout the 2018 campaign. Tran said a senior staffer was responsible for personnel issues, and Tran got most of his updates from that staffer. Tran said if there were rules violations, that staffer should have known better.
The report finds that Tran was taking a similar tactic preparing for his 2020 reelection campaign, asking Senate staffers to attend campaign related meetings and participate in fundraising discussions. When one new staffer asked Tran if he would have to help with the campaign, Tran said yes, adding, “We all do.”
When Tran’s campaign manager asked a staffer to help on the 2020 campaign, the staffer said public employees could not be forced to do campaign work. The campaign manager responded that Tran could fire employees who did not work on the campaign.
When constituents contacted Tran about Senate issues, Tran told staff to add them to a “supporters” database, which was apparently used for fundraising. Tran, however, said the database was used for constituent work.The Ethics Committee authorized the Office of the Senate Counsel to open an investigation after receiving two anonymous letters. The counsel, after doing a preliminary investigation, notified Tran and told him to keep the investigation confidential. According to the report, Tran went ahead and talked to one of his staffers about the allegations and warned the staffer “to be careful” about what he said.
An additional allegation, the details of which were not made public, is being referred to the State Ethics Commission and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.