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House leader apologizes for Holocaust remarks

Badge analogy ‘inappropriate’

John Binienda said, ‘No comparison can be made between the Nazi regime and a rules proposal made by members.’ John Binienda said, ‘No comparison can be made between the Nazi regime and a rules proposal made by members.’
By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / July 1, 2011

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A powerful Massachusetts state representative apologized yesterday for comparing a proposal requiring State House lobbyists to wear identification badges to the tattoos branded on Holocaust victims.

Representative John J. Binienda, a Worcester Democrat who has served in the Legislature since 1987, said he made an “inappropriate analogy’’ when he criticized the badge proposal.

“No comparison can be made between the Nazi regime and a rules proposal made by members in good faith,’’ he said in a statement yesterday. “I apologize to the sponsors, as well as the people of Massachusetts for my words.’’

The proposal requiring that lobbyists wear badges was pitched by House Republicans last week as a transparency measure, so that members of the public, the media, and lawmakers themselves would know which special interests were attempting to influence lawmaking.

On Wednesday, Binienda, who heads the House Rules Committee, called the proposal “revolting’’ and went on to make the historical analogy.

“Hitler, during the concentration camps, tattooed all of the Jewish people so he would know who was a Jew and who wasn’t, and that’s something that I just don’t go along with,’’ Binienda told State House News Service for an article posted yesterday.

The comments drew criticism and a demand for an apology from a national Holocaust survivors group, from the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League, and House Republican leader Bradley H. Jones Jr.

“Holocaust survivors are appalled that Representative Binienda would so frivolously make such a comparison with the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust,’’ Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in an e-mail.

In a statement yesterday, Derrek L. Shulman, regional director of ADL New England, condemned what he called Binienda’s “casual reference’’ to the Holocaust as offensive and destructive. After speaking with Binienda, however, Shulman said he accepted the apology.

“We appreciate his assurances that he understands why inappropriate Holocaust references are offensive, not only to Holocaust survivors, but also to everyone who values a shared community of respect,’’ Shulman said in a follow-up statement.

Jones called the comments inappropriate and offensive, adding that they “dilute the important dialogue that should have been raised by the reform package we have proposed.’’

House Republicans made the badge proposal as part of a package of ethics rules changes offered after former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi was convicted on federal corruption charges last month. The rules would apply only to House members, as each chamber is allowed to set and enforce its own standards of ethical conduct.

DiMasi, who was found to take a kickback in exchange for getting a software contract approved, is the third consecutive speaker to be convicted of, or to plead guilty to, a felony.

Representative Daniel B. Winslow, a Norfolk Republican who authored the measure, said the proposal is aimed at drawing attention to the relationships between legislators and lobbyists and “to make it less comfortable to be cozy.’’

More than a dozen states require lobbyists to wear identification badges, including New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Massachusetts secretary of state’s office issues identification cards to registered lobbyists, but they are not required to wear them.

The new badge requirement would be the lawmakers’ responsibility to enforce, and it would be in place any time a legislator was interacting with a lobbyist, regardless of the location, Winslow said.

“If you saw a legislator on the golf course with three friends, you’d think nothing of it,’’ said Winslow. “If you saw a legislator on the golf course with three people wearing a lobbyist badge, that’s a different appearance.’’

The ethics proposal, released last week, would also forbid legislators and their staffs from contacting government agencies about contracts before they are awarded. It would also create a “snitch rule,’’ forcing legislators and their staffs to report unethical or illegal conduct of their colleagues. And it would prohibit lobbyists from entering the House chamber and create new disclosure and ethics requirements for legislators or their employees who get arrested.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said in a statement that the overall plan offers some positive ideas, which he plans to consider.

“Some of the suggestions are already being followed,’’ he added. “In some cases, they further strengthen the rules reforms passed during the last couple of sessions.’’

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.