The Massachusetts State House remains quiet and closed to the public. But normalcy is returning to Beacon Hill in at least one way: Lawmakers eyeing free or subsidized travel on someone else’s dime.
State Senator Diana DiZoglio, who is running for state auditor, disclosed to state ethics regulators that she planned to travel for at least five days to Athens later this month with $3,368 in expenses paid for by the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association. The group, which gathers elected officials of Greek origin from various countries, is hosting a three-day legislative conference, including meetings with Greek officials.
DiZoglio originally intended to travel to Greece for nine days, according to a disclosure she filed with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission in early June. Roughly an hour after the Globe first inquired about the trip on Thursday, DiZoglio filed an amended disclosure, saying she instead planned to attend for five days.
Then on Friday, a campaign aide to the Methuen Democrat said she decided to not attend at all, because she had “since been invited to several Democratic committee meetings scheduled during the same time.”
“There was hope to shorten her trip and that would allow her to attend as many Democratic committee events as possible,” Chris Keohan, a spokesman for DiZoglio’s state auditor campaign, said Friday. “This morning, Diana decided that was not practical considering her heavy campaign schedule and chose to cancel the trip altogether.”
Travel like DiZoglio had planned is allowed by state law. Massachusetts legislators can legally accept free or subsidized travel — including from foreign governments — as long as they disclose the details and value of the trip and sign a document affirming it serves a legitimate public purpose that “outweighs any special non-work related benefit” to them.
It’s something they’ve regularly taken advantage of. Members of the Massachusetts House and Senate racked up roughly 3,000 traveling days and accepted more than $1 million in free or subsidized flights, hotels, meals, and other travel costs between 2013 and 2018, a Globe review found that year.
But such trips effectively stopped amid the COVID-19 pandemic. DiZoglio’s disclosure revealing reimbursed travel was the first one a lawmaker has filed with the state Ethics Commission since February 2020, when Senate President Karen E. Spilka disclosed she attended a conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., the previous month. The Senate Presidents’ Forum picked up a $3,600 tab for Spilka’s trip.
DiZoglio’s initial disclosure to the State Ethics Commission in June said she planned to take a nine-day trip to Greece, a stretch that covered five days in August when “optional trips” were listed on the association’s agenda. The options included travel to Rhodes; Kos, an island in the southeastern Aegean Sea; and a “day trip” to nearby Kalymnos.
Her subsequent disclosure, filed at the end of the business day on Thursday, indicated her trip would instead last five days and end on July 30 — the final day of the legislative conference.
DiZoglio has disclosed taking at least two other trips to Greece in which costs were paid for by the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association, whose goals include to promote “professional development opportunities and networking” among its members, as well as trade and economic development in Greece, according to its web site. The association launched in 1996, and was formally established under Greek law in 2005.
The group paid $3,492 for an eight-day trip DiZoglio took in 2013, and an estimated $3,000 for a five-day trip 2015, both times to attend the legislative conference, according to disclosures DiZoglio filed. Similar to those years, DiZoglio wrote in her filing for this year’s trip that learning about how Greece operates would help provide her a “better understanding of how to incorporate best practices to enhance the Commonwealth.”
“By learning about Greek partnerships with our local universities, we are able to further facilitate both cultural awareness and educational opportunities within the Commonwealth,” she wrote.
DiZoglio announced in June she would run for state auditor after Suzanne Bump, the three-term Democratic incumbent, said she would not seek reelection. If elected, DiZoglio said one of her first actions would be to audit the Baker administration’s actions, including the use of no-bid contracts, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a state senator, rather than trying to work within the rules of the powerful Beacon Hill establishment, I have taken it on – fighting for increased transparency, equity, accountability and accessibility for all,” she said in a statement at the time.
Chris Dempsey, who was the director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said he also intends to pursue a campaign for the seat.