DiMasi met with friend on legislation

Had denied speaking with Hub contractor

By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / May 23, 2008

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Boston contractor Jay Cashman met privately last fall with House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi in a bid to ease permitting rules for wind farms in Massachusetts waters, a meeting that appears to contradict DiMasi's earlier assertion that he never spoke with Cashman, a close friend, about legislation affecting Cashman's business.

Asked last week about Cashman's previously undisclosed presence at the Oct. 18 meeting in DiMasi's State House office, DiMasi confirmed that Cashman was there, but said that they did not specifically discuss Cashman's pending plan to build a wind farm on Buzzards Bay and that he never influenced legislation to help Cashman. In addition to being close friends with the speaker, Cashman has a business relationship with DiMasi's wife, Deborah DiMasi.

"It was not my intention to give the im pression that I didn't meet with Mr. Cashman," DiMasi said. "Whether Cashman was here or not, I believed DeVillars was talking for Cashman's interests." John DeVillars, former state environmental secretary, is a consultant working for Cashman.

That assertion differs with what DiMasi said in a Globe interview in April.

"We don't talk about those things; it was all policy driven," DiMasi said then, when first asked if he had spoken directly to Cashman about the wind project.

A spokesman for Cashman also confirmed that he was at the Oct. 18 meeting and said Cashman has never denied meeting with the speaker on the wind farm legislation. Also present were two top aides to DiMasi and DeVillars. DeVillars declined to comment.

A month after the Oct. 18 meeting, DiMasi inserted language into an energy bill that would loosen permitting rules that would make it easier for Cashman to build 120 turbines.

On another occasion, at a January meeting with House members opposed to the wind farm, DiMasi quoted from a four-page memorandum prepared by Cashman's lawyer, Thomas R. Kiley, to argue in favor of the amendment, according to a legislator who was at that meeting. The memo was contained in packets Cashman had distributed to lawmakers, arguing for DiMasi's amendment.

DiMasi's Oct. 18 meeting with Cashman and his use of the memo show that lobbying contact between Cashman and DiMasi was far greater than DiMasi previously acknowledged.

DiMasi's spokesman, David Guarino, said DiMasi did not remember his use of the memo written by Cashman's lawyer, but added that if he did use it, it was to highlight differences of opinion in general state laws.

DiMasi said he has never taken any actions intended to benefit Cashman financially. The two men are not only friends and political allies, but their wives work together in a TV and film-production business owned by Cashman and his wife, Christy Cashman, creating a risk of conflict of interest in their contacts that DiMasi acknowledged last year in a letter to the House clerk. Cashman, a wealthy Boston contractor with a broad array of major projects around New England, is not required to register as a lobbyist if he is advocating on behalf of his own business.

DiMasi and Cashman have declined to disclose the nature of the business relationship between the Cashmans and Deborah DiMasi, including whether and how much Deborah DiMasi is paid. If Deborah DiMasi accepted money from the Cashmans, it could pose a violation of state ethics laws that prohibit people with interests before the Legislature from providing anything of more than $50 in value to lawmakers or their immediate families. DiMasi, as the public official, is the only one subject to penalties under the ethics law's provisions.

If the interests before the Legislature were general in nature and the legislation DiMasi backed was not intended to benefit a specific Cashman business interest, it would not be a violation, under the ethics rules.

DiMasi has said he did not violate any conflict-of-interest statutes because he publicly disclosed his connections to Cashman and because all of his actions were based on broad policy considerations and not specific to Cashman's business interests.

In an interview with the Globe in April, DiMasi said he had never spoken with Cashman about legislative issues affecting Cashman's financial interests. That assertion was contained in a May 1 Globe report about DiMasi's backing of the wind farm legislation and a separate action he took that kept alive a proposed liquefied natural gas facility in Fall River, where Cashman subsequently sold land for the LNG project and made a $14.2 million profit.

DiMasi said last week that he thought the Globe's questions in April only pertained to speaking with Cashman in social settings about legislation, which he said never happened. As to the presence of Cashman in his office Oct. 18, DiMasi said he invited Cashman to make a formal presentation on general wind farm law. He said it was not unlike a separate meeting he had with developers of Cape Wind, a proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound.

"I met with Mr. Cashman in my office, like I would with anyone else," DiMasi said. He said that Cashman and DeVillars advocated changes in the statute that governs the siting of wind farm development in ocean sanctuaries.

"They thought it should be clarified . . . and cleaned up of any ambiguity and clearly express the policy intent to create offshore renewable energy," DiMasi said. "We did not discuss anything specific about his projects."

Cashman has declined to be interviewed on the subject. His spokesman, George Regan, said in April that he was uncertain about whether DiMasi was present at any meetings Cashman held to brief House and Senate members on wind farm legislation. Regan said in April that Cashman thought that DiMasi had been present at one of the briefings. "He wasn't absolutely sure," Regan said in April. "He couldn't remember."

Regan said last week that Cashman does not remember details of the Oct. 18 meeting in the speaker's office.

"We've never denied any meeting with the speaker, and in fact we informed the Globe that he met with the speaker's staff and that the speaker may have been present," Regan said. "Jay has taken painstaking efforts to ensure that his friendship with the speaker does not involve any conflict."

Although DiMasi took pains to cast his Oct. 18 meeting with Cashman and DeVillars as general in nature, and the resulting policy as broad, the amendment that he put into the legislation would have allowed renewable energy projects in five specific places on the state's coast, including Buzzards Bay.

DiMasi initially included the measure in a bundle of amendments that were passed without debate. After its first passage in an energy bill in November, DiMasi, facing an uproar from opponents who said they were blindsided by the move, backed off the measure. In January, he pushed it through a second time, attaching it to an oceans policy bill, after a floor debate.

State Republicans have already filed a complaint asking the State Ethics Commission to review the personal and business relationships between the Cashmans and the DiMasis and whether those ties affected legislation.