State Auditor Diana DiZoglio said Tuesday that she is launching a wide-ranging audit of both the Massachusetts House and Senate, the first of either legislative body in more than a century, setting up a potentially thorny confrontation with some of Beacon Hill’s most powerful Democrats.
DiZoglio, a Democrat from Methuen who routinely criticized the Legislature’s opacity when she was a state representative and senator, said in a statement that the Legislature has long remained a “closed-door operation,” where some committee votes are private and major legislation is routinely pushed through “in the dark of night.”
She made the announcement just hours after testifying before a legislative budget committee.
“Taxpayers deserve more — they deserve the opportunity to weigh in on legislative, budgetary and regulatory matters that are important to them,” DiZoglio said in a statement Tuesday. She noted the Legislature has not been audited since 1922, even though the state ranks as one of the least transparent in the country. Massachusetts is the only state where the Legislature, judiciary, and governor’s office all claim to be completely exempt from public records law.
“We hope this will increase transparency, accountability and equity in an area of state government that has been completely ignored,” she said. “Everyone should have equitable and transparent access to and information about all state-funded agencies, including the Legislature.”
Senate President Karen E. Spilka appeared to chafe at undergoing a review by DiZoglio’s office, saying in a statement Tuesday night that the Senate already undergoes an audit each year by a certified public accounting firm, and makes its journals, payroll information, and other documents public.
“Under the Massachusetts Constitution and as the separation of powers clause dictates, the Senate is required to manage its own business and set its own rules,” the Ashland Democrat said.
Spokespeople for House Speaker Ronald Mariano did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
DiZoglio served a combined 10 years in the two chambers, and last year campaigned for auditor on diving into the Legislature’s operations. But whether she has the legal authority to do so is unclear. Her predecessor, Suzanne Bump, told CommonWealth Magazine last year that the Legislature is not among the 200-plus agencies the office has the power to audit, arguing it “does not have the authority, express or implied” to do so.
DiZoglio at the time rejected that interpretation, saying there is no such prohibition anywhere in state law.
“There is nothing in the law that prevents our office from conducting an audit,” DiZoglio said Tuesday. “In fact, audits of the Legislature have been done by this office in the past but it appears they unfortunately haven’t been done since 1922, leaving an entire branch of government sorely overdue for increased transparency and accountability through the auditing process — which other state agencies have been mandated to receive.”
In letters DiZoglio sent to the Democratic leaders Tuesday, she described undertaking a wide-ranging look into their operations. The audit would include, but not be limited to, “access to budgetary, hiring, spending and procurement information,” she wrote.
She said she would also review “information regarding active and pending legislation, the process for appointing committees, the adoption and suspension of House and Senate rules and the policies and procedures of the House and Senate.”
DiZoglio also asked that legislative leaders make any requested records and information available within 72 hours of the date of request.
DiZoglio added in a statement that she hopes the “Legislature welcomes the opportunity for an audit to uncover where we can, and must, do better as a state government.”
Mary Z. Connaughton, director of government transparency and chief operating officer at the Pioneer Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, said the auditor’s office has in the past filed legislation to give itself the authority to dig into the Legislature’s books, though it never passed.
Connaughton, who was the Republican nominee for auditor in 2010, said that DiZoglio’s move is likely to draw resistance, but that it makes “perfect sense” for an independent state agency to be able to review the Legislature.
“Transparency is key to engender public trust. When the Legislature closes itself off from the scrutiny of the public, it’s simply not healthy for a democracy,” she said. “Darkness should not prevail.”
DiZoglio got her start on Beacon Hill as a legislative aide to Republican state Representative Paul Adams. After her 2012 election to the House, she consistently challenged then-House speaker Robert DeLeo, a clash that peaked in 2018 when she spoke out on the House floor in violation of a nondisclosure agreement she had received after being fired as an aide amid innuendo and sexual harassment.
She later sponsored numerous bills that would bar the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence allegations of sexual harassment or assault.
Tuesday’s announcement marks the third high-profile audit DiZoglio has announced since she took office in mid-January.
She said Monday that she is launching an audit of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to look into allegations of racism in hiring, promotions, and procurement practices. And her office said it would conduct a “performance audit” of the MBTA, covering a turbulent two-year period in which the T has struggled to improve.
Samantha J. Gross of the Globe staff contributed to this report.