Not long after state officials rejected Salvatore F. DiMasi’s application to lobby on Beacon Hill, the former House speaker and convicted felon sought another place to try his talents: City Hall.
DiMasi registered to lobby with the city April 23 — a week after Boston’s newly passed lobbying ordinance took effect and just a day after DiMasi appealed the secretary of state’s rejection of his state bid, records show.
Boston’s first-of-its-kind process, which operates separately from the state’s, was launched amid concerns the city had no effective way to regulate who was peddling influence in City Hall.
But DiMasi’s registration, which has not been reported publicly before, could cast a spotlight on the fledgling rules, which proponents say are still a work in progress.
The city ordinance, which Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed in October, includes a mechanism to automatically disqualify anyone from lobbying for 10 years if they’ve been convicted of a felony that violates certain state lobbying and ethics laws.
The language closely mirrors the statute under which Secretary of State William F. Galvin has rejected DiMasi from lobbying at the state level, where he asserts that DiMasi’s 2011 conviction on public corruption charges includes “conduct in violation” of state law. DiMasi is challenging that, arguing that the federal counts aren’t specifically included among the disqualifying convictions.
But in the city’s case, the responsibility of enforcing that language falls to a five-person Lobbying Compliance Commission that has yet to meet.
Walsh has named three appointees — Vivien Li, the former president of the Boston Harbor Association; attorney Stephanie Everett, and attorney Sammy Nabulsi. City Clerk Maureen Feeney and City Council president Andrea Campbell hold the other two seats, and the panel is slated to hold its first meeting Wednesday afternoon, Feeney said.
Feeney’s office had processed DiMasi’s registration, but she said the city’s language gives her no authority to approve or reject a lobbyist. And it’s the commission that ultimately has the power to create regulations around the broadly worded ordinance.
“Until the commission took effect, we could take no action on this,” Feeney said of DiMasi’s registration. “I believe it’s an issue we have to take up for consideration. But it would be imprudent for any of us to make decisions, speaking even as a commissioner, until we at least meet.”
DiMasi has at least one client at the city level, but his attorney, Meredith G. Fierro, declined to disclose who it is ahead of a city-imposed July 20 deadline, when all registered lobbyists must file their first quarterly report with the city.
The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance has retained DiMasi to lobby for it at the State House, but Fierro said DiMasi is not working for the nonprofit at the city level.
DiMasi registered with the city “in an effort to comply with the requirements of the law,” Fierro said. She accused Galvin of “overreaching” by rejecting his state registration, but she argued that his decision “has no bearing on the application of the city ordinance.”
Walsh had first proposed new municipal lobbying rules in 2016, including fines of up to $10,000 and the possibility of criminal prosecution for violators. But while his plan languished before the Council and later on Beacon Hill, city councilors passed their own version including fines of up to $300 for those who do not register.
Laura Oggeri, a Walsh spokeswoman, said the mayor expects the commission “to take action on any individual that registers as a lobbyist at the City of Boston but should be disqualified under city ordinance.”
She did not respond to a question of whether Walsh, who served in the House while DiMasi was speaker, believes he should be barred from lobbying in City Hall.
City Councilor Michelle Wu, who helped author the ordinance, said its intent was to better clarify who was meeting with and attempting to influence the city’s elected officials and employees.
“In my mind, it’s not about who should have the right to play this role,” she said. “The lobbying ordinance at the city level is all about transparency.”
The measure, however, could still be amended, said City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who introduced the proposal with Wu and cautioned that it’s “a work in progress.”
“It was important to get something on the books as a stepping-off point,” Flaherty said. “We wanted to make sure it was something that was open and transparent and wasn’t overly burdensome and onerous for those who do business in the city. And our hope was that over time we would be able to work the kinks out of it.”
Concerns about the city’s ability to enforce the ordinance date back at least a year, when Galvin cautioned that any true reform efforts need ways to protect the system’s integrity.
“You can’t be a scofflaw and stay in the lobbying business,” he told the Globe in June 2018.
Galvin declined to comment on DiMasi’s registration with the city, citing the ongoing appeal at the state level. But his office said he’s filed legislation to create rules around municipal lobbying in state law.
DiMasi wielded outsized influence during his four-plus years as speaker before resigning under an ethics cloud in 2009.
Two years later, he was convicted on charges of taking kickbacks in exchange for using the power of his office to help a software company win $17.5 million in state contracts.
Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.