Defying an order from Secretary of State William F. Galvin, Charlestown accountant Richard D. Vitale will refuse to appear at a hearing today to answer questions about allegations that he lobbied on behalf of a group of Massachusetts ticket brokers.
Vitale's lawyer sent a letter yesterday to Galvin's office saying that Vitale was refusing to comply with the order and answer questions under oath because, in the lawyer's opinion, the secretary of state appeared to be overreaching.
"We do not believe that [Galvin] . . . has any authority, statutory or otherwise, to conduct such a hearing," Vitale's lawyer, Richard Egbert, wrote in a letter to the director of Galvin's public records division, Alan Cote.
In response, Galvin accused Vitale and Egbert of making a mockery of state lobbying laws.
"His interpretation of the lobbying laws would make them Swiss cheese," Galvin said in an interview. Galvin said he is not sure what action he will take next.
Among his options, he said, are to disqualify Vitale from working as a lobbyist or to refer the matter to Attorney General Martha Coakley for investigation.
"If they won't cooperate, I'll have no choice but to refer this for criminal prosecution," Galvin said.
The secretary of state's office had scheduled a hearing for this morning to delve into discrepancies between a lobbying report Vitale filed in May and one filed by the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers. The ticket brokers reported that they paid Vitale and his firm, WN Advisors LLC, $60,000 to lobby on their behalf in 2007. But Vitale registered as a lobbyist only for the year 2008 and reported no income or clients.
Vitale, who is House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's close friend and financial adviser, has declined to be interviewed. Through his spokesman, he has said he never lobbied for the group but was a strategist.
Last year Vitale helped the ticket brokers advance legislation that would remove caps on ticket prices. The bill, with DiMasi's support, passed the House last fall, but has been stalled in the Senate for several months.
If Vitale had been a registered lobbyist at the time he was advising the ticket brokers, he could have run afoul of the state's conflict-of-interest law, which prohibits registered lobbyists from giving anything to a public official. In 2006, Vitale gave DiMasi a $250,000 third mortgage at an interest rate that was below prevailing rates on the speaker's North End condo. Last month, after Vitale registered as a lobbyist, DiMasi repaid the loan.
In his legal argument disputing Galvin's order, Egbert said the law only allows the secretary of state to inspect reports and make sure they are filed, but does not give him the power to investigate. Even if a hearing were permitted under the law, Egbert said, Galvin's office had not given Vitale enough time to prepare.
Furthermore, Egbert said that Galvin's office agreed to let Vitale register only for 2008, but is now reneging on the deal, an assertion Galvin denied.
"Your request is a clear breach of the explicit agreement I reached with you and Marie Marra in early May, 2008," Egbert wrote, alluding to the supervisor of Galvin's lobbyist section.
Egbert also asserted that Vitale could not file lobbyist reports for past years because he has not retained any records of his activities.
That also drew a strong response from Galvin. "The assertion he has no records is very hard to believe, given the fact that his profession is an accountant," Galvin said. "It's generally accepted that accountants advise you to keep records, not destroy them. The suggestion that records are being destroyed adds an even greater urgency to our inquiry."
Galvin said officials know "for a fact, admitted by Mr. Egbert, that [WN Advisors] was paid money in 2007."
"That is an indisputable fact," Galvin said. "They clearly were paid by an entity that had an interest in legislation, and that legislation received affirmative treatment in 2007.
"When you cut away all the fancy legal talk it comes down to this: Mr. Vitale is not above the law. We have laws that say that people who get paid to influence public decisions need to tell us not only what they were paid but for what they were paid. Mr. Vitale needs to comply with the law."
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.