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Panel may ease ethics rule that sank Wolf’s gubernatorial bid

The State Ethics Commission gave tentative approval Monday to a change in the state’s conflict-of-interest rules, a move that potentially would allow state Senator Dan Wolf to remain in the Legislature while his company continues to hold leases with Logan International Airport.

The commission gave the green light to a proposal that relaxes the law by allowing state and municipal employees to maintain contracts with government agencies that predate their election or appointment to office. Once in office, contracts could only be renewed under terms that are nonnegotiable and not subject to competitive bidding.

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The rules change could be finalized by the end of the year after public hearings are held, said David Giannotti, a spokesman for the panel that oversees ethics law in Massachusetts.

The change would come too late for Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, to restart his campaign for governor, but would allow him to keep his Senate seat and perhaps seek higher office in the future. Wolf, who cofounded Cape Air a quarter century ago, suspended his gubernatorial campaign in August after being told by the commission that the longstanding leases the regional airline held with Logan International Airport represented a conflict of interest.

Wolf acknowledged that even if the commission agreed to a softening of the rules, it would be too late for him to reenter a competitive Democratic field that includes state Treasurer Steven Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley, among others.

A message seeking comment from Wolf after the commission’s vote was not immediately returned.

Though the panel agreed to reexamine the conflict-of-
interest law at the behest of Wolf and his supporters, Giannotti said the proposed change was not specifically tailored for Wolf. The panel, he said, only agreed to consider a change that would have broader application for all officials.

Under the exemption, contracts with government agencies that began before a person entered public service could be retained, with ‘‘safeguards to ensure that they do not use their public positions to advance their business interests,’’ the draft regulation states.

The requirements that contract renewals not be competitively bid and contain standard, nonnegotiable terms was meant to ensure that public officials could not use their positions to influence contract awards or terms.

Wolf had pushed for an exemption to the strict conflict-of-interest rules, maintaining that Cape Air’s leases with the Massachusetts Port Authority, the semi-independent public agency that operates Logan, were not competitively bid and that Cape Air paid the same standard fees as any airline.

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