STATE AUDITOR Diana DiZoglio’s quest to audit the Massachusetts Legislature – by court, by ballot initiative, even by song and dance – is keeping her locked in an uneasy standoff with leaders of the branch of government where she previously served.
The former state representative and state senator pledged in her campaign last year for auditor to train the office’s headlights at the notoriously opaque Legislature, examining its finances and its internal processes. She has been rebuffed every inch of the way by House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, who argue she lacks the constitutional authority to force open their books and say their existing internal audit process is sufficient.
“As the least transparent state legislature in the entire nation, according to most good government groups, we need to work to increase transparency and accountability in any way that we can,” DiZoglio said on The Codcast this week. “And this audit will shine a light on some of the areas where we may need to see improvements.”
DiZoglio is seeking support from Attorney General Andrea Campbell to establish an existing right to audit the Legislature. The attorney general’s office has yet to weigh in, but has been in regular contact with the auditor’s office since DiZoglio’s appeal, she said, and “I know they’re hard at work on this.”
But to cover her bases, DiZoglio is working in her personal capacity on a ballot initiative process that would clearly state that the Legislature is one of the state bodies the auditor can investigate. Campbell’s office overruled a formal objection from the state Senate in certifying the question for the ballot.
Legislative leaders say an audit of their branch would violate the separation of powers principles enunciated by the state Constitution. DiZoglio calls this a “bogus argument,” since the Legislature has some oversight powers to examine the executive branch.
“We’ve heard a lot from them about their claim that there’s some separation of powers, but we haven’t heard a lot from them about checks and balances,” DiZoglio said. “And what they’re basically saying right now is, ‘Hey, executive branch – an audit for thee, but not for me.’ And that’s not the way that this should go. We all need to be held accountable.”
DiZoglio has framed the audit as a mission to advance public transparency, citing not only her prior experience as a former Beacon Hill staffer but as a legislator struggling with its closed-door systems. A particular informal session stood out, she said, in which the presiding officer clarified that lawmakers were given no time to read a proposal that they were expected to vote for that day.
“If we, as legislators during that time, were not being given access to those proposals before they were being passed quickly through in an informal session without roll call votes, what does that say about people’s access on the ground level in our communities and our neighborhoods,” she said.
In the back-and-forth over whether the auditor’s office has authority over the Legislature already, DiZoglio says that the office has uncovered at least 113 past audits of the chambers.
“Those audits were documented and they were in some good old-fashioned books that were located in the back of the auditor’s office on some dusty shelves,” she said. “We pulled them off the dusty shelves, we dusted them off, we opened them up, we took a read.”
DiZoglio’s ballot effort needs about 75,000 signatures in the coming months, making her a common off-hours presence outside grocery stores, clipboard in hand. She’s also putting a more musical skill set to work – she wrote and recorded a song called “My Voice” for Boston Public Radio about the effort.
“I am doing everything I can, including song and dance, in order to get the message out there about this ballot initiative,” Dizoglio said. “So yes, I will sing, I will do theater performances. Whatever it takes, I’m on board.”