STATE AUDITOR Diana DiZoglio has drained her campaign account to pay for the signature-gathering effort to put a proposed law on the ballot allowing her office to audit the Legislature.
DiZoglio on September 29 transferred $50,000 from her campaign finance account to the Committee for Transparent Democracy, which was set up to mount the ballot campaign. She then made a personal loan to her campaign of $50,000 on October 12 and a day later transferred $55,000 from her campaign account to the ballot committee.
The bottom line: The ballot committee received $105,000 and DiZoglio’s campaign committee ended the month of October with just $4,136 in cash on hand, plus an IOU to DiZoglio for $50,000.
“Honestly, I don’t think anyone should be surprised. When she’s focused on something, she’s all in,” said Doug Rubin, the political consultant who oversaw DiZoglio’s campaign for auditor and is now heading the Committee for Transparent Democracy.
The committee has reported no fundraising or expenditures yet, but Rubin said about $250,000 has been raised.
Rubin said the committee has gained support from an unusual left-right coalition to gather the signatures needed to get the proposed law on the ballot. The coalition includes Our Revolution, the progressive spinoff from the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign; the lefty Act on Mass, which aims to “keep the State House honest;” the Massachusetts Republican Party, which has provided 50 volunteers; and the right-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which has contributed money for a mailing to voters..
“We all have the same goal,” Rubin said. “We feel pretty confident about where we are.”
Ever since she announced her intention to audit the Legislature during last year’s campaign, DiZoglio has been told the law does not allow it. Former auditor Suzanne Bump said as much during the campaign. Legislative leaders said the same in rebuffing DiZoglio’s efforts to begin an audit. And Attorney General Andrea Campbell recently conducted a review of the relevant laws at DiZoglio’s request and concluded she lacks the authority to audit the Legislature.
The review said the auditor’s office is a creation of the Legislature and is vested with authority granted to it by the Legislature. “For the reasons set forth in this letter, that authority does not include the power to audit the Legislature itself over the Legislature’s objection,” Campbell’s letter said. “This conclusion is supported by the statutory text, its legislative history, judicial interpretation of similar statutes, and the historical record.”
Campbell even signaled that passage of the ballot measure may not grant DiZoglio the authority to launch the wide-ranging audit of the Legislature she wants to conduct. “Should the initiative become law, we may need to consider whether, and the extent to which, constitutional limitations affect how the law would apply,” Campbell wrote.
GOP suddenly has leverage on Beacon Hill
Republicans, often dismissed on Beacon Hill as irrelevant, suddenly have a lot of bargaining power.
When top Democrats on Wednesday failed to reach agreement on a wide-ranging spending bill that contains $250 million for the emergency shelter system, they indicated they would continue seeking agreement in the coming days and weeks. The problem is the Legislature recessed for the holidays on Wednesday, and from now until early January is scheduled to only meet in informal sessions, where the objection of a lone legislator can block a bill from moving forward.
Republicans, badly outnumbered in both the House and Senate, suddenly become key players. “There’s a lot of leverage right now,” said Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman of Sutton.
What exactly the Republicans will do with that leverage is unclear, but most of them have concerns about the rising cost of the emergency shelter system. Rep. Peter Durant of Spencer, who earlier this month won a special election for a Senate seat, made the shelter issue one of the centerpieces of his campaign.
Fattman said the Democrats screwed up by waiting until the final day of the session to negotiate a final agreement. He says one option might be to pass in informal session the parts of the spending bill everyone agrees on – union raises, funding to address budget shortfalls, etc. – and deal with the emergency shelter problem more broadly. He suggests bringing the Legislature back into session to address that issue. “Bring everyone back. I would support that,” Fattman said.
Mariano big-foots squabble over amendment
House members got into a skirmish on Wednesday over an amendment to the long term care bill – with top Democrats tussling over the provision until Speaker Ron Mariano got the final word in with an uncharacteristically dramatic flourish.
The change would allow direct care workers like certified nursing assistants to become certified to administer certain medications to residents in long-term care facilities. The proposal prompted Rep. Denise Garlick of Needham to offer a “further amendment” to send the issue to study – effectively killing it for now. That led to a testy back-and-forth over support for the bill between Garlick, a registered nurse and chair of the Education Committee, and Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, the House chair of the Public Health Committee.
Decker said on the floor that she was “a little dismayed that this is even up for debate, quite honestly, since nobody – nobody – has contacted me as the chair, the Senate chair, in the last session or this session.”
Garlick revealed she had reached out independently to the Department of Public Health.
“I’m in possession of a memo from DPH that I received moments ago, that says we don’t even have enough CNAs doing the job they’re supposed to be doing, much less asking them to do this additional job,” Garlick said.
The exchange concluded with an unusual intervention from Mariano, who rose in opposition to Garlick’s amendment with yet another twist.
Within the last half hour, Mariano said, he spoke to the secretary of health and human services, Kate Walsh, “who supports this amendment, who supported it this morning, supports it now. When I referenced the letter that the representative just read, she was talking to the commissioner of Public Health, who knew nothing of the letter. The letter was sent by an attorney for DPH without the scrutiny of the commissioner. So that’s what you’re dealing with for information,” the speaker said.
When the speaker speaks, House members tend to listen, and Garlick’s amendment was declared rejected on a voice vote moments later.