How much does the Beacon Hill political establishment dislike state Auditor Diana DiZoglio?
Enough to try to embarrass her on the day Maura Healey was sworn in as governor. As DiZoglio approached the rostrum where other elected officials and distinguished guests were seated, she discovered there was no designated chair for her — and then outgoing Auditor Suzanne Bump told her she shouldn’t be there because she had not yet taken the oath of office. Yet there was a place for Attorney General-elect Andrea Campbell, who had not been sworn in either. DiZoglio did not retreat, and a chair was eventually brought up for her. She ended up close to Robert DeLeo, the former House speaker with whom she previously clashed over the use of nondisclosure agreements to cover up allegations of sexual harassment — something she contends happened to her. They both stared off stonily into the distance. (I watched some of this mini-drama unfold from the House press gallery and caught up on details later.)
What could be dismissed as petty, inside baseball has now evolved into a serious Beacon Hill power play with major policy implications. Following up on a campaign promise, DiZoglio announced plans to launch an audit of the Legislature, where she served as a lawmaker for 10 years and has many powerful enemies and very few friends. She believes she has the right to do so under Chapter 11, Section 12 of the Massachusetts General Laws. But as the Globe’s Matt Stout reported, the last time that happened was a century ago, when an auditor’s review in 1922 focused narrowly on accounting for lawmakers’ expenses. In letters DiZoglio sent to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, she said her audit would include but not be limited to “budgetary, hiring, spending and procurement information” — which leaves open a path for uncovering nondisclosure agreements, which she views as an abusive practice.
In an interview, DiZoglio told me that Mariano and Spilka have not responded to her notice to conduct an audit, and if they don’t cooperate, she’s prepared to go to court. As she sees it, nothing in state law prevents the auditor from auditing the Legislature and she views such an audit as “an opportunity to help the Legislature increase equity and transparency in order to help the residents they seek to serve.” I think it’s a battle worth fighting — if only to settle the issue of the auditor’s reach.
Bump conducted audits of the judiciary, and in her first term in office, she also filed a bill that would have explicitly granted the state auditor the power to audit the legislative branch. In an interview, Bump said she had discussions at the time with DeLeo and then-Senate President Therese Murray but the bill went nowhere. Still, Bump is no fan of DiZoglio. Although she endorsed her in the general election, she, like most of the Beacon Hill establishment, endorsed DiZoglio’s Democratic primary opponent, Chris Dempsey.
Bump sees a big difference between her agenda and DiZoglio’s. “I was contemplating auditing for internal controls: are they following the rules of keeping money safe … the kind of compliance audits that we do to guard against broad-based abuse. Diana wants to go far beyond that, and she thinks she can do that without statutory authority,” said Bump. She did not want to address their interaction on the day of Healey’s inauguration, other than to say, “She [DiZoglio] wasn’t a constitutional officer,” and that’s why she felt she didn’t belong at the rostrum.
If the skeptics and their insults bother DiZoglio, she doesn’t show it. From her perspective, she’s doing what she said she would do. She’s challenging the status quo and the self-serving priority of the patriarchy — and the matriarchy — to protect their own power. Elected to an office best known for generating snores, she quickly generated headlines with announcements about plans to audit not only the Legislature, but the MBTA and Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.
There’s risk in what she’s doing. She has to press each case on its merits. It can’t look like state audits are motivated by personal gripes. And, in the end, DiZoglio will be judged by her ability to perform her job, as defined by state statute. As CommonWealth Magazine pointed out during the primary, that law requires the auditor to audit more than 200 governmental entities at least once every three years, leaving little “time or room for freelancing.”
Can DiZoglio do that while taking on high-octane reviews and a likely legal battle over the right to audit the Legislature? The same political establishment that hoped she would lose the auditor’s race is hoping she can’t. But anyone who believes in the power of change and the need for it on Beacon Hill should hope that she can.
Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.