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Political Intelligence

Romney staff, ABCC investigators in close quarters

Mitt Romney’s expanded staff has already outgrown the presidential committee’s North End headquarters.

Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Mitt Romney’s expanded staff has already outgrown the presidential committee’s North End headquarters.

Mitt Romney’s transformation from candidate to the presumptive Repub­lican presidential nominee has meant new ­demands for him and his campaign committee.

Those new demands also require an expanded staff, which has already outgrown the committee’s North End headquarters. Additional workers are ­being placed in a nearby building on Causeway Street, in one case just across from the first-floor offices of the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

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Romney has some experience creating vacancies at that address. The ABCC was the target of a purge shortly after Romney became governor.

In February 2003, he fired 11 of 14 investigators at the agency, which enforces liquor laws.Romney said the ABCC was rife with patronage and duplicated the work of other law enforce­ment agencies.

Two of those who got pink slips were the son of state Representative John Binienda of ­Worcester and the brother of state Representative Paul ­Kujawski of Webster, who has since left the House.

“Governor Romney’s mission is to streamline and create efficiencies in government,” an administration spokeswoman said then.

The Legislature, dominated by Democrats, disagreed, and it promptly voted to transfer control of the agency from the governor’s office to the treasurer’s office. Timothy P. Cahill, then the state treasurer and a Democrat, rehired the investigators.

“It seems decisions at the ABCC are based more on politics than good policy,” Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s communications director then and now a senior campaign strategist, said at the time.

“As soon as we started to shake things up there, the Legislature moved to take it away from the governor.’’

A spokesman for the current treasurer, Steven Grossman, confirmed that Binienda and ­Kujawski remain on the staff, setting up the possibility that they will run into Fehrnstrom in the building’s cafe.

And if not them, then some of the other investigators. Their ranks stand at 15, up from 14 when Romney targeted them.

Pharma gift ban

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, one topic of conversation was whether the state should repeal the pharmaceutical gift ban that Governor Deval Patrick signed into law two years earlier.

It was one of the most stringent in the country, prohibiting payments or gift exchanges ­between companies and doctors and providing for a fine of up to $5,000 per occurrence.

It prompted pharmaceutical companies to warn that the state could cost itself jobs or clinical trials by appearing ­unfriendly to the industry.

During a 2010 debate in Cambridge sponsored by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, Patrick and his rivals were asked about repealing the ban. They all agreed it had been superseded by new federal transparency regulations.

Patrick said his goal was to align the state ban with federal rules, and if the state ban could be eliminated, “I’m there.”

Well, more than 18 months later, the Biotechnology Industry Organization is about to bring its annual megaconvention to Boston, starting June 18.

The state gift ban, though, remains in ­effect.

The House recently voted repeal the ban. There were two Senate budget amendments that would have either strengthened the ban or loosened it for restaurant meals, but both were withdrawn.

Nonetheless, the ban will now be one topic of conversation during a House-Senate budget conference committee.

Kim Haberlin, a spokeswoman for Patrick, said: “The administration worked closely with the industry when we drafted the regulations in 2008. We wanted to strike the appropriate balance between protecting consumers and the legitimate proprietary interest of companies. Despite those ­efforts, the industry still has concerns, and the governor under­stands those concerns. He has discussed the issue with legislators and advocates on both sides and has made clear that he’d like to see the House and Senate come to a consensus soon.”

She added: “He wants to sign legislation that lifts the ban this session.”

Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available online at www.boston.com/
politics. He can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
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