State officials have barred former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi from registering as a lobbyist, opening a potentially precedent-setting fight with the convicted felon over what he says is his “constitutional right” to peddle influence on Beacon Hill.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office rejected DiMasi’s application in late March, just days after the 73-year-old registered to lobby both the Legislature and executive branch, according to documents the Globe obtained through a public records request.
DiMasi has since appealed and is due to appear before an administrative hearing officer June 13 in a public session.
The former North End Democrat’s attempt at entering the lucrative industry came just months after he completed his federally supervised release following his 2011 conviction on public corruption charges. DiMasi, who had received an eight-year sentence, suggested as recently as January he was weighing whether to register as a lobbyist.
DiMasi’s federal counts — including mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion — aren’t specifically included as disqualifying convictions in state statute.
But Laurie Flynn, Galvin’s chief legal counsel, argued that DiMasi’s criminal record includes “conduct in violation” of state lobbying and ethics laws, which automatically bars him from lobbying for 10 years after his conviction, or until June 2021.
The decision could be groundbreaking. Galvin’s office said it’s the first time it’s denied a lobbyist application based on federal convictions since the state rewrote the ethics and lobbyists laws a decade ago amid DiMasi’s criminal case. That’s also because it’s never had an applicant with federal convictions “comparable to violations” in state law, said Debra O’Malley, a Galvin spokeswoman.
DiMasi, who now lives in Melrose, formally appealed in April, arguing that because lawmakers did not include any of the federal statutes on which he was convicted into the law, he shouldn’t be prohibited from registering.
“The Secretary participated in the law making process, and like the lawmakers and the public, was well aware of the federal prosecutions against us,” DiMasi wrote in his two-page appeal letter, referring to the federal cases of “other elected officials.” Dianne Wilkerson, a former state senator, was charged federally with accepting bribes months before DiMasi was indicted in June 2009.
Then-Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation strengthening the lobbying and conflict of interest laws that July, including creating the 10-year prohibition.
“Lobbying is a constitutional right,” DiMasi wrote to Galvin’s office. “Now that I have paid the severe price for my convictions, I want to do what I know best: advocating for the things I believe in.”
Meredith G. Fierro, DiMasi’s attorney, declined to comment beyond DiMasi’s letter. But she pointed to a 33-year-old Supreme Judicial Court decision in which it upheld a former Boston Redevelopment Authority employee’s challenge of a Boston retirement board decision to strip him of his pension following a federal conviction. The SJC ruled in George N. Collatos’s favor because, it found, the Legislature did not write the pension forfeiture law to include federal crimes, even if they’re “arguably equivalent” to those at the state level.
Others indicated the law could be on Galvin’s side. Edward V. Colbert, an attorney with the firm Casner & Edwards and a former assistant attorney general, said the state’s 2009 overhaul gave Galvin broader authority in policing the state’s lobbyists, a fact that should help him if the dispute lands in court.
“It’s his statute to implement and enforce,” Colbert said. “The secretary’s decision will be given deference by any court who reviews it.”
DiMasi had indicated months earlier he could seek to become a lobbyist, saying the State House is “what I know.”
“Between my knowledge, my experience, my expertise in certain areas, I can be helpful,” DiMasi told the Globe in January. “I still have a lot of things I would like to accomplish.”
DiMasi wielded outsized influence during his four-plus years as speaker, helping to shepherd the state’s landmark 2006 health care law requiring insurance for most residents and championing same-sex marriage while in office.
But he resigned amid an ethics cloud in 2009, and two years later he was convicted on charges of taking $65,000 in kickbacks in exchange for using the power of his office to help a software company win $17.5 million in state contracts.
DiMasi received an eight-year sentence, but within months was diagnosed with cancer.
He eventually earned an early release shortly before Thanksgiving in 2016, and as of the end of last year, he said he was in remission for throat and prostate cancer.
DiMasi’s friend Richard McDonough, a lobbyist and codefendant, also was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.
McDonough, also released from prison early, attended a public hearing on sports betting at the State House on May 28. He has not tried to re-register as a lobbyist, and it was unclear whether he was at the hearing on behalf of a client.
In 2008, Galvin moved to suspend McDonough’s right to lobby for allegedly failing to disclose all payments he received from Cognos, the software company at the center of DiMasi and McDonough’s federal corruption case. Galvin suspended his efforts after McDonough turned over the information.
That DiMasi’s case was inextricably tied to the lobbying world is not lost on DiMasi himself.
In his appeal letter, he said the 2009 bill that rewrote the state’s lobbying and ethics law was “widely heralded as a reaction to the lobbying efforts associated with my federal cases” and others.
He also argued that other federally convicted officials have since registered as lobbyists.
Former speaker Charles F. Flaherty has lobbied for years after pleading guilty to tax evasion charges in 1996, and his successor, Thomas M. Finneran, has been a lobbyist for more than a decade, after he pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count of obstruction of justice.
Both, however, were convicted — and later registered as lobbyists — before the Legislature revamped the law in 2009.
Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout. Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.