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In novel move, DiMasi sues secretary of state after lobbyist bid denied

Former House speaker Sal DiMasi has challenged Secretary of State Bill Galvin over the rejection of his bid to become a registered lobbyist.
Former House speaker Sal DiMasi has challenged Secretary of State Bill Galvin over the rejection of his bid to become a registered lobbyist.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi on Friday sued Secretary of State William F. Galvin as part of the disgraced Democrat’s bid to register as a state lobbyist, an unprecedented legal move that could have wide ramifications on how Massachusetts lobbying and ethics laws are interpreted.

DiMasi filed the 14-page complaint challenging Galvin’s decision in Suffolk Superior Court just weeks after a state hearing officer denied DiMasi’s initial appeal the day after Christmas.

Galvin, who was first elected in 1994, has never before been sued for denying a lobbyist application, according to his office, and depending on how a judge rules, it could reshape how his office enforces state law.

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Galvin has argued that 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. The decision was the first time Galvin had denied an application on that basis since the state rewrote the statute more than a decade ago amid DiMasi’s criminal case.

DiMasi has argued that lawmakers, however, did not include any of the federal statutes on which he was convicted among those that would disqualify him.

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

Cassidy also said that DiMasi’s conviction “closely aligns” with the language in state statute, and that he should be disqualified.

DiMasi on Friday asked the court to set aside the denial, and asserted that Galvin violated his constitutional rights by “barring him from employment” as a lobbyist without first giving him notice and an opportunity to be heard.

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“The Defendant thus had no authority to automatically disqualify [DiMasi] from registering as an executive or legislative agent,” wrote Meredith G. Fierro, DiMasi’s attorney, in the complaint. She added that DiMasi “continues to suffer substantial and cognizable injury.”

Galvin on Friday declined to comment on the complaint through a spokeswoman, Debra O’Malley. But O’Malley said his office was expecting it and has notified Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which will defend Galvin in court.

DiMasi said in November 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.

He received an eight-year sentence, but within months was diagnosed with cancer. DiMasi earned early release shortly before Thanksgiving 2016, after serving roughly five years. He said in 2018 that his throat and prostate cancers were in remission.


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