Globe Editorial

With DiMasi’s disgrace, it’s time to end the imperial speakership

June 16, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

SAL DIMASI’S conviction yesterday for extortion, wire fraud, and other acts of corruption should spell the end of the imperial speakership on Beacon Hill. DiMasi, who faces up to 20 years in prison, is the third consecutive former House speaker to go down on federal charges. Yet even more so than the tax evasion case against Charlie Flaherty or the perjury case against Tom Finneran, the crooked software deal at issue in the DiMasi case shows what can happen when a single legislative leader controls the body to such an extent that he can wield almost unchecked power behind the scenes — and when other officials flatter him and kowtow to him as a result.

The jury found that DiMasi took kickbacks to steer $17.5 million in contracts to Cognos, a software company based in Burlington. Prosecutors traced the money easily enough; some of it flowed from Cognos to DiMasi’s law partner — who testified that he did no work for the company — to DiMasi himself, under the guise of referral fees. And witnesses from Governor Patrick on down explained how DiMasi had taken an intense interest in an obscure contract that the state didn’t seem to need, and how they let him have it, without digging too deeply about why he wanted it so badly.

After the verdict, DiMasi insisted to reporters everything he did was within the normal course of his job as speaker. “Federal law seems to require something different,’’ he lamented — as if the prohibition on giving state work to a company that’s paying him off were somehow sad and inexplicable. If DiMasi really believes this, it speaks to how few checks there were on the whims of the speaker.

In a statement yesterday, current speaker Robert DeLeo maintained that the kind of corruption on display in the trial is “definitely not business as usual.’’ DeLeo, who seemed entirely too willing to throw his weight around in Probation Department hiring matters, has nevertheless been less heavy-handed and more amenable to ethical reforms than his predecessor.

But avoiding future scandals will take more than just more humility and a greater commitment to transparency. It also requires more courage from everyone else. DiMasi’s trial brought discredit upon Patrick and his team; upon the Democratic legislator who jumped to do DiMasi’s bidding by introducing a budget amendment whose true purpose he didn’t understand; and upon the ostensibly reform-minded Democrats who voted to reinstall DiMasi as speaker in 2009, despite mounting evidence that DiMasi had, at the least, crossed significant ethical bounds.

With veto-proof majorities behind them, legislative bosses on Beacon Hill can wield more power than the governor. Patrick can only veto measures; a legislative kingpin can prevent them from ever seeing the light of day. It’s time for the Democratic Party to demand reforms to curb the kind of power that enabled DiMasi to force dozens of officials — up to and including the governor — to bend to his whims. People who run for office on Beacon Hill need higher aspirations than to take dictation from the