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GOP wants inquiry into state senator’s gifts to colleagues

State Senator Brian A. Joyce.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2014/Globe Staff

The state Republican Party filed a complaint on Wednesday with the state ethics commission asking it to investigate Milton state Senator Brian A. Joyce’s receipt of dozens of pairs of deeply discounted designer sunglasses from a manufacturer in his district.

The complaint came after the Globe reported last week that for Christmas, Joyce gave his senate colleagues 24-karat-gold-plated sunglasses that retail for more than $200 a pair. But he obtained them for only about one third of the retail price.

“Senator Brian Joyce, who has been in office for 17 years, should know that state ethics prohibits him from receiving a special discount that is not available to the public,” GOP party chairwoman Kirsten Hughes wrote in the complaint. “The Massachusetts Republican Party hopes that this apparent violation of state law is swiftly investigated and if found to be improper, that Senator Joyce be held to account for his alleged failure to comply with state ethics rules.”

The Randolph Engineering glasses, worn by athletes, celebrities, and actors such as Jon Hamm and Robert Redford, came with each senator’s name engraved on the side. Joyce also got seven pairs of sunglasses for himself, his wife, and five children.

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In a statement, Joyce said that he had done nothing wrong: “I take the state ethics law and its requirements very seriously, and am one hundred percent certain that my Christmas gifts to my colleagues were in full compliance with that law.”

Joyce originally negotiated a price of just $50 a pair from Randolph Engineering, according to a spokesman for the firm. But Joyce did not pay the bill until after the Globe inquired about the purchase last week.

When he called the company, on Jan. 23, he increased the amount he was willing to pay by almost $25 more per pair, a company invoice shows. But the final price — $74.50 — was still far below the retail price on the company website, and below the wholesale rate two retailers said they pay.

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Joyce said he paid the “bulk rate discount,” but the company would not provide any documentation showing such a discount exists or say how many pair of glasses someone would have to buy to receive that price.

If Joyce received a discount that is not widely available, he could be in violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest law, which bars public officials from using their position to receive special benefits.

Accepting anything worth $50 or more raises questions under the law, specialists said. A lawmaker who receives such an “unwarranted privilege” can face penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.

Ethics Commission spokesman David Giannotti would not say whether the agency, which enforces the state’s conflict-of-interest law, will investigate the matter.

“Due to strict confidentiality requirements imposed on the Ethics Commission by statute,” he said, “I can neither confirm nor deny whether the commission has received any complaints or is reviewing any matters.”

Joyce has been unapologetic about the gifts he gave his colleagues. In an e-mailed statement last week, Joyce said, “In the spirit of friendship and following a longstanding tradition, I once again gave my Senate colleagues holiday gifts from a business in my district for which I paid the same amount as any other bulk purchaser, in full compliance with all state ethics guidelines.”

State Senator Cynthia Creem, newly appointed chair of the Senate Ethics Committee, said she would not comment on the complaint until the Ethics Commission determined if there was a violation. In addition, she said, she wants to keep an open mind in case the matter ever comes before her committee.

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As for the gift itself, Creem said the Senate has a long history of holiday gift giving among its members. Though she made a charitable donation in her colleagues’ names, she did not see any problem with Joyce’s giving his colleagues expensive sunglasses.

“Some people feel the holiday spirit and need to give a gift,” she said. “Sometimes we get food from their district. We also get bowls and vases. I take the gifts in the spirit they are given. I didn’t know whether [the sunglasses] were expensive or not, I’m embarrassed to say. I didn’t know that stars wear them. I didn’t know that at all.”

Creem said rather than “wait for someone to get into trouble,” she hopes the committee can be proactive and help senators better understand what constitutes ethical behavior in business and politics. She plans to invite Harvard ethicists to meet with senators on Beacon Hill, she said.


Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.