Several weeks before it was announced that a registered State House lobbying group was arranging for an expense-paid, 10-day foreign junket for nearly a dozen state senators, the Senate delivered a nice gift: It went on record supporting the group in its battles to protect its client.
Bad timing, at best.
The state’s conflict-of-interest law prohibits lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials.
The lobbying group is the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, a pro-Israel group which spent $211,000 last year lobbying for some of its issues on Beacon Hill. The gift is the JCRC’s arranging a trip for about 11 senators, including Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, to Israel in December.
Senate legal beagles say the JCRC’s role in organizing the trip — something the philanthropic group has been doing for years as part of its mission to promote Israel’s interests in the Boston area — clears the smell test.
That is because the lawmakers publicly disclosed the arrangement with the State Ethics Commission as required by law. And, they say, the rule covering gifts applies only to lobbyists not their employers. A commission spokesman declined to comment.
Still, lawmakers taking subsidized trips — the cost in this case will range between $5,000 to $6,000 per senator — is never a pretty sight. And the Senate action on the JCRC-sponsored resolution pushed the ethics questions a bit further.
On Oct. 1, as the trip was being put together, the Senate passed a resolution reaffirming Massachusetts’ support for its relationship with Israel and, as the group claimed, “rejecting efforts to isolate and target Israel.’’
The Senate action provided no direct monetary value to JCRC — but it was of great indirect value to the group and to Israel.
The JCRC is battling the movement to require the state and local communities to divest of their bonds and stocks in companies that do business in Israel. A counter campaign is trying to divest public pension funds from companies that boycott Israel.
The Senate resolution delivered a clear message to any state agency to think twice before entertaining such a move.
Jeremy Burton, the JCRC’s executive director, said the group is careful to make sure no lobbyists are involved in its Israel trips. He acknowledged its government affairs staff often connect lawmakers interested in the Israel trips to the JCRC office. “My understanding is that it is important that this is kept separate from the lobbying activities,’’ he said.
Reading between the signs
The politics of campaign signs can offer a glimpse into the alliances and rivalries in the clubby world of local politics. Take South Boston, where a panoply of signs have been latched to fences and railings for Tuesday’s City Council election.
Southie is home to City Council President Bill Linehan , who is running unopposed. But Linehan’s red campaign signs have appeared stapled to purple placards for Councilor Michelle Wu, who holds one of four at-large seats represents the entire city.
You may recall that two years ago Wu was a swing vote helping Linehan win the council presidency.
Over on G Street, Linehan’s house has three campaign signs: for himself, Wu, and Councilor Stephen J. Murphy, who is also running for reelection to an at-large seat.
At his house, Linehan left out two at-large incumbents: Ayanna Pressley and Michael F. Flaherty Jr., a fellow Southie native. When asked, the council president made clear that nothing should be inferred by the lack of a Flaherty sign.
“It’s only because it’s his neighborhood, and he has plenty of signs,” Linehan said this week. “My wife said two was enough, and there’s three.”
For the record, Linehan said he endorsed Flaherty, Murphy, and Wu. Pressley did not make the cut.
Midnight voting lives on
The once grand Balsams resort in Dixville Notch, N.H., has long been known as the quirky spot where residents vote at midnight during the New Hampshire presidential primary and on Election Day.
With the resort boarded up as new owners plan for a grander resort, the future of midnight voting remained an open question — with the prospect of ending a half-century-old tradition.
But fans of the early voting can take heart: While the 2016 presidential primary voting will not occur in the hotel’s historic ballot room, it will occur a “mobile ballot room” on the property, according to a spokesman.
But Dixville Notch will not be the only place where midnight voting will take place a little over a 100 days from now. The North Country communities of Hart’s Location and Millsfield are also planning to hold votes at the same time.
Under New Hampshire law, a community can open and close voting at any time as long as all residents of that town vote. Each of these communities historically have under 20 residents eligible to vote.
Majority of congressional delegation backs transgender bill
More than half of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, have now voiced public support for a Beacon Hill bill that would ban discrimination against transgender people at malls, restaurants, and other public accommodations.
“Everyone deserves the freedom to live without fear of discrimination,” said Representative Seth Moulton, in a statement this week. “That means having the freedom to ride the T, grab coffee with a friend, or go for a jog in the park.”
The Washington set has won kudos from advocates. But the politics on Beacon Hill are not as clear cut.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, has come out in support. But House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, has not yet declared a position, even as he signals he is sympathetic to the legislation.
Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has declined to take a stand, saying “the devil is always in the details.” But in his unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2010, he called similar legislation a “bathroom bill” and said he would veto it.
The phrase evoked concerns about transgender women with male anatomy demanding access to bathrooms and locker rooms. And it got to the crux of the political calculus on the issue: It’s unclear if the Massachusetts public’s generally liberal views on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights extend into the bathroom in this particular case.
Baker may be able to prevaricate on the issue without a substantial public backlash.
It is, in other words, one of those rare political issues that might see winners on all sides — Democratic congressmen in Washington who support it and a Republican governor in Boston who is leery.
Five candidates, fivedifferent campaign styles
With the municipal election just days away, the campaign for four at-large Boston City Council seats is getting into full swing. Only one challenger is in the race against four incumbents. And all are hitting the pavement, using very different campaign styles.
Councilor Michelle Wu has been knocking on doors, holding office hours, and shaking hands in her quest for a second term.
The sole challenger in the race, Annissa Essaibi George, is introducing herself to voters with leaflets, one-on-one time, and public events such as candidates’ forum.
Councilor Ayanna Pressley has done some door-knocking, though not much, her campaign said. To maximize her time, Pressley’s campaign organizes around large neighborhood events that draw dozens of supporters, including a rally Sunday in Roslindale where Attorney General Maura Healey spoke in her honor, said James Chisholm, her campaign manager.
“Candidates door-knocking can be effective, but it can’t be only that,’’ Chisholm said, adding that the key is targeting the right voters. “That’s something we’ve been very good at doing. We have great lists. We know who are voters are. They don’t all need Ayanna knocking at their door.”
Councilor Stephen J. Murphy, first elected in 1997, said his focus is on being highly visible at events that target “good voters” throughout the neighborhoods. And from time to time, he’ll ring a few doorbells.
“I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years,’’ Murphy said. “People know me when they see me now.”
Murphy has volunteers fanning the city, spreading his message. “It’s a great big city,’’ he said. “You can’t possible meet everyone yourself. That’s why you rely on your campaign team to get the message out as well.”
He also hopes his new video and an eight-page newspaper about his achievements will sway voters.
Meanwhile, Councilor Michael Flaherty is in full campaign mode. A councilor for a decade who stepped down to run for mayor, he was elected back to the council in 2013.
With a driver at the wheel one recent Saturday, Flaherty zipped across the city, from the North End to Roxbury, doling out hugs at a block party and conducting an interview for a Caribbean radio station.
“This is really important,’’ Flaherty said between stops. “My philosophy is, I don’t take any neighborhood for granted. I don’t take any election for granted.”