Disgraced former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi said Tuesday he deserves a “second chance” to lobby on Beacon Hill after his conviction on public corruption charges and nearly five years in federal prison.
His attorney also indicated that he would take his case to the courts should the state ultimately bar him from lobbying following a months-long fight to register.
A hearing officer is weighing DiMasi’s appeal of Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s decision to reject his application to register as a lobbyist. Galvin has asserted that DiMasi’s federal conviction includes “conduct in violation” of state lobbying and ethics laws, which should automatically prohibit him from lobbying for 10 years, or until June 2021.
DiMasi, 74, told reporters after a Tuesday hearing on his appeal that he wants to lobby on issues ranging from health care to criminal justice reform, and that his conviction — which at the time earned him the longest federal sentence handed out to an elected official in Massachusetts history — should not stop that.
A jury in 2011 convicted DiMasi on charges of taking $65,000 in kickbacks in exchange for using the power of his office to help Cognos, a software company, win $17.5 million in state contracts. DiMasi afterward maintained his innocence.
“Whatever you think I did, I think I’ve paid my debt to society, and I think I can get a second chance to be a contributing citizen so that I can benefit the citizens of Massachusetts,” DiMasi said Tuesday. “Basically, I feel like that’s my purpose in life.”
DiMasi’s attorney, Meredith G. Fierro, argued Tuesday that when lawmakers reshaped the state’s lobbying and ethics laws in 2009, they did not include any of the federal statutes on which he was convicted among those that would disqualify someone from legally lobbying.
“It doesn’t say anything about crimes that are a violation of public trust or public corruption crimes. The Legislature could have written any of that language into the disqualification provision, but it did not do so,” Fierro told Peter Cassidy, an attorney in Galvin’s office whom the secretary appointed to hear the case.
“The [state’s] lobbyist division doesn’t get to second guess the wisdom of that decision,” Fierro said, later adding that Galvin’s office “should not be acting as a lawmaker.”
The secretary’s office has argued it is interpreting the law correctly, and that legislators, in overhauling the laws in 2009, were specifically reacting to allegations against DiMasi and other state officials charged with federal crimes.
“Mr. DiMasi’s interpretation of [the law] would mean that the Legislature, understanding these crimes are tried federally, willfully put in this section of law knowing it would have zero effect on those persons convicted of defrauding the very public body they now seek to lobby, rendering this legislation meaningless,” Marissa Soto-Ortiz, an attorney for Galvin’s office, said Tuesday.
DiMasi’s interpretation, she argued, “would yield an absurd and unworkable result.”
Fierro on Tuesday said she filed a motion with Cassidy asking that he hand down a decision on DiMasi’s appeal within 45 days. She argued that the appeals process has already dragged on for nearly eight months since Galvin first denied DiMasi’s application, and that if he doesn’t get a “favorable decision” from the hearing officer, “we would like to get to the court as quickly as possible.”
DiMasi’s wife, Debbie, who has attended hearings with him, said the process has been “drawn out a long time.”
“It’s quite unfair, to be honest with you,” she told reporters.
The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance has retained DiMasi to lobby for it at the State House, Fierro has said, and Compassionate Organics hired him to lobby at Boston City Hall amid its years-long push to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Newbury Street, according to city records.
In her motion asking for a decision by early January, Fierro said DiMasi also “has already lost potential clients” amid his appeal.
Galvin’s office has also alleged that DiMasi illegally acted as a lobbyist in 2006 and 2007 when, as the House’s top-ranking elected official, he schemed to help Cognos win the two state contracts — actions it says were, in effect, lobbying.
His office has held it up as an “alternative theory” to why DiMasi should be prohibited from lobbying. But Fierro on Tuesday criticized it as an attempt to “get two bites at the apple.”
Soto-Ortiz denied that. “This is just to reinforce what the lobbying law was intended to do,” she said. “It is intended to keep the public trust in the legislative process.”
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 in federal court.
DiMasi received an eight-year sentence but within months was diagnosed with cancer. He eventually earned an early release shortly before Thanksgiving in 2016 after serving roughly five years. At the end of last year, he said he was in remission for throat and prostate cancer.
“I feel pretty well,” DiMasi said Tuesday.