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Ex-speaker Sal DiMasi’s latest bid to be a lobbyist is denied

Former House speaker Sal DiMasi in Boston in 2018.
Former House speaker Sal DiMasi in Boston in 2018.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi’s appeal to register as a state lobbyist was denied Thursday by a hearing officer, a move that is expected to push the disgraced Democrat’s months-long bid to lobby on Beacon Hill into Superior Court.

DiMasi, 74, had challenged Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s decision to reject his application to register in March, when he said the former speaker’s 2011 federal conviction on public corruption charges includes “conduct in violation” of state lobbying and ethics laws and should automatically prohibit him from lobbying for 10 years, or until June 2021.

DiMasi argued that when state lawmakers overhauled the lobbying law in 2009, they did not include any of the federal statutes on which he was convicted among those that would disqualify him.

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Peter Cassidy, an attorney in Galvin’s office whom the secretary appointed to hear DiMasi’s appeal, on Thursday rejected DiMasi’s “narrow” interpretation, saying it is “at odds with the regulatory scheme established by the Lobbying Law, the purposes of that law, and the intentions” of the Legislature.

“The Lobbying Law is designed to protect the integrity of the legislative process, public resources, and citizens’ trust in their government from the effects of dishonesty and abuse in lobbying,” Cassidy wrote in a 12-page decision.

“This law must be interpreted in light of the problems it is intended to address and the objects it is intended to accomplish.”

DiMasi’s interpretation, he wrote, would “fail to address the gravity of Mr. DiMasi’s crimes, particularly in light of the position of public trust he held as Speaker of the House.”

Meredith G. Fierro, DiMasi’s attorney, said Thursday in an e-mail that she intends to challenge Galvin’s denial in Suffolk Superior Court.

“This result did not come as a surprise,” she said of Cassidy’s decision.

“In order to seek judicial review of the Secretary’s erroneous interpretation of the Lobbying Law, we had to exhaust our administrative remedies by going through this process. Now we can finally file our complaint in Superior Court, which we will be doing promptly.”

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A spokeswoman for Galvin declined to comment Thursday, citing the likely litigation.

DiMasi said last month that he deserves a second chance after serving five years in federal prison and that he wants to lobby on issues ranging from health care to criminal justice reform.

A federal jury in 2011 found him guilty 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. At the time, the conviction earned him the longest federal sentence handed out to an elected official in Massachusetts history, though DiMasi has maintained his innocence.

“Whatever you think I did, I think I’ve paid my debt to society,” he told reporters after a November hearing on his appeal.

Galvin’s office has argued that it is interpreting the law correctly and that legislators, in reshaping the laws in 2009, were specifically reacting to allegations against DiMasi and other state officials charged with federal crimes.

It 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.

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But Cassidy, in a separate two-page decision released Thursday, allowed DiMasi’s motion to strike the alternate theory.

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 under an ethics cloud in 2009 and two years later was convicted in federal court.

DiMasi received an eight-year sentence but within months was diagnosed with cancer. He earned early release shortly before Thanksgiving 2016, after serving roughly five years. At the end of last year, he said his throat and prostate cancers were in remission.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.