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Connaughton would push Beacon Hill audits right away

Vows changes in government

By Matt Murphy and Michael Norton
State House News Service / October 6, 2010

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Republican candidate Mary Connaughton promised yesterday that her first action as state auditor, if elected, will be to file legislation subjecting the House and Senate to a full financial audit that would throw the curtain back on a branch of government currently protected from such scrutiny.

Connaughton, appearing in the drizzle outside the State House with about a dozen supporters, including several lawmakers, said a new era of transparency is needed to restore the public’s trust in government in Massachusetts.

“Perhaps the ethics violations and the corruption charges we hear about are only isolated occurrences, but they have dampened the people’s spirits,’’ Connaughton said.

Connaughton, a former state Lottery chief financial officer and Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board member, is running against Democrat Suzanne Bump, a former lawmaker, lobbyist, and labor secretary under Governor Deval Patrick.

The issue of auditing the Legislature, a proposal that has surfaced and stalled many times on Beacon Hill, has become a staple platform item for both candidates over the past few weeks, though they disagree on who came up with the idea first.

Connaughton, a certified public accountant, said she wants to audit how the Legislature spends its roughly $60 million annual appropriation, as well as its contract procurement process. She said she does not believe there is a constitutional “separation of powers’’ issue because the auditor already has oversight over the judiciary.

A few lawmakers turned out to back Connaughton, who said she planned to use the press and social media to advance her effort. Among the Republican state representatives backing her were Bradley Jones, the House minority leader; Viriato deMacedo, of Plymouth; Susan Gifford, of Wareham; and Elizabeth Poirier, of North Attleborough.

Several Republican candidates for state representative and senator were also on hand, including Geoff Diehl, Mike Case, Brad Williams, and Patrick Foran.

Connaughton said she also believed the Legislature should be subject to some type of open meeting law and said she would model her office after the Congressional Budget Office on Capitol Hill, conducting financial analyses of all major spending bills before the Legislature.

“As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis once said, sunshine is the best disinfectant, and I plan to bring a whole lot of sunshine to Beacon Hill,’’ Connaughton said.

During her brief appearance, Connaughton did not mention Bump by name, though it was just days after a contentious 15-minute, mini-debate between the two candidates.

Bump and Connaughton battled in a sharp and short war of words Sunday in a debate moderated by Jon Keller of WBZ-TV, who deployed “one at a time’’ cautions several times.

Connaughton portrayed Bump as an insider-loving former lawmaker-lobbyist who does not understand the job, calling her “Miss Beacon Hill.’’

Bump painted Connaughton as a micromanaging accountant whose public service career has depended on assignments handed out by former Republican treasurer Joseph Malone and former GOP governor Mitt Romney.

Bump said she would use the auditor’s job to make fundamental changes in state government and “to advance an agenda on behalf of the taxpayers.’’

Bump said she will not be found in the office of the state auditor, passing that she will be in the field, instructing her auditors to do a better job.

Connaughton said her work as a certified public accountant, as chief financial officer at the state Lottery and on the former Turnpike Authority board better qualify her for the position. “You don’t understand the job,’’ she told Bump at one point.

Bump trumpeted her work on workers’ compensation overhaul legislation that she helped pass in the early 1990s, while representing Braintree as a member of the House, and more recently as Patrick’s labor secretary, noting she helped reorganize agencies in “complete dysfunction.’’

Bump said lawyers unhappy with the overhaul bill had helped engineer her reelection defeat.

“I was the author of those reforms and I suffered a political consequence,’’ she said, saying her loss showed she was willing to take political risks.

But Connaughton tarred Bump as “Miss Beacon Hill’’ by noting she had followed up her decade of experienced as a lawmaker with a run as a “professional lobbyist cozying up with Beacon Hill’’ and later as a Cabinet secretary.

As Connaughton sought to use Bump’s work in the public sector against her, Bump said she has spent 14 years as an attorney and started a law firm.

Then she focused on Connaughton’s unsuccessful run for state representative in 2004 and her work at the Lottery and as a Framingham State College instructor.

“All of this came about under the patronage of Mitt Romney,’’ Bump said.

Said Connaughton: “I do have the public service bug. I have the people in mind.’’

Connaughton also slammed Bump for taking “thousands of dollars’’ from special interest groups and alleged those donations would impair her ability to be independent.

“You have already sold the public out in doing that,’’ Connaughton said.

The Connaughton campaign provided a list of more than $4,000 in donations to Bump from labor unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 223, Plumbers Union Local 12 PAC Fund, the Teamsters Local Union No. 82, and United Steelworkers of American Union 9360.

Connaughton’s campaign said she was not accepting any contributions from political action committees or lobbyists.

Bump said Connaughton’s assertion was a “strong and pretty unfounded accusation,’’ telling Connaughton that “I have a vision, and I have leadership qualities that, frankly, you lack.’’

Connaughton continued the flurry, telling Bump: “I don’t need on-the-job training to be the state auditor at the taxpayers’ expense.’’