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GOP seeks DiMasi probe

Says fund-raiser was a conflict of interest

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / March 25, 2008

The state Republican Party yesterday asked the State Ethics Commission to investigate whether House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi violated conflict-of-interest laws by soliciting donations for a charity golf tournament, an event whose largest sponsor has been a software company that was improperly awarded a $13 million state contract.

The GOP's request followed a Globe report about the fund-raiser yesterday that said DiMasi has hosted the Officer Harold L. Vitale Memorial Golf Tournament at his home golf course, the Ipswich Country Club, since the event started in 1995.

As chairman of the event, DiMasi sent out a fund-raising letter in 2005 asking potential donors to sign up for the event and contribute "to a great time for a great cause." The tournament raises money in honor of a Saugus police officer, Harold Vitale, killed in the line of duty in 1985. Vitale was the brother of Richard Vitale, a close friend of DiMasi's and his former campaign treasurer.

Cognos ULC was the sole "platinum" sponsor of the event, donating $10,000 in several years, including 2005. As a platinum sponsor, the company was entitled to have its name highlighted on banners and featured in color brochures.

During the years it was a platinum sponsor, Cognos also was seeking contracts from the state. In the past three years, Cognos has been awarded $22 million in contracts from 10 state agencies.

Among other sponsors with business before the state were Jay Cashman, a major contractor who is seeking to build a wind farm at Buzzards Bay. Suffolk Downs, which is looking to build a casino, sponsored the event last year.

The GOP asked the Ethics Commission to look into the relationship between the charity and parties with interests before the state need to be explored by the Ethics Commission. Barney Keller, the party's communication director, accused DiMasi of trying to help his friends win state contracts in a way that is "a real bogey on his legislative record, and it may be against the law."

DiMasi may have violated state ethics rules if he knew that fund-raising materials authored by him went to any state employees or companies with business before the state.

DiMasi has not personally answered questions about the matter, but through his spokesman, David Guarino, he has denied doing anything inappropriate. He has said that he had no control of what people or companies received fund-raising solicitations from the charity and that he never performed any follow-up solicitations.

Guarino restated that position yesterday.

When Cognos was seeking the disputed $13 million contract last year, DiMasi personally met with the state's chief information officer to press for the kind of software Cognos produces.

The official, Bethann Pepoli, has also told investigators that a middleman who put together the deal - former Cognos executive Joseph Lally, who described himself as DiMasi's friend - suggested that DiMasi wanted the contract to go to Cognos.

Earlier this month, Inspector General Gregory Sullivan found that the contract was awarded in an unusually rushed process that violated basic bidding rules.

The current chief information officer, Anne Margulies, has asked IBM, which recently acquired Cognos, to refund the $13 million.

Common Cause executive director Pam Wilmot said yesterday that donating to politicians' favored charities is a way that special interests "pay to play."

"It's a way to meet and greet and make the personal contacts," Wilmot said. "It's a way to do something nice for someone in power.

"The question for the conflict-of-interest law is: Were there personal solicitations made? Was there any pressure exerted and any implied pressure? If the answer is no, then it's just business as usual. Lobbyists curry favor with those in power."

Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation said there is often an "unhealthy relationship" between politicians and people with interests on Beacon Hill.

"I didn't read the story with any amount of surprise," she said. "In the past, these things happened, but people were more careful to cover their tracks. Now they don't worry at all. They know they'll still get reelected, because voters aren't paying attention."

The House minority leader, Bradley Jones, Republican of North Reading, asked why the Patrick administration approved the contract award in the first place.

"The inspector general says procedures weren't followed," Jones said. "Shouldn't that be an indictment of the administration?

"To me there's another side to the story," he said. "Whatever advocacy the speaker did or didn't do, ultimately the decision to do this was made by someone who doesn't work for the speaker."

In response yesterday Patrick's communications director, Joe Landolfi, said the administration alerted the inspector general once the bidding problems were discovered.

"The contract was awarded based on the recommendations of the administration's then acting information technology director," he said.

"Following a subsequent review of the procurement process, irregularities in the bid process were uncovered, and the matter was referred to the inspector general's office."

Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com.

Through his spokesman, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi has denied doing anything inappropriate.

In his own defense

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