| The Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at the Law School convened more than 50 legislators, lawyers, lobbyists, and law enforcement officials last month to discuss the merits of proposed state ethics legislation.
The discussion coincided with the release of a March 25 Rappaport Center poll exploring perception of ethics in state government.
“Beacon Hill has been embroiled over the last several months in a series of alleged ethics violations and criminal misconduct,” said Ben Clements, chief legal counsel to Gov. Deval Patrick, who chaired the task force that drafted the ethics legislation.
The poll by the Rappaport Center showed that 11 percent of respondents rated the level of ethics in the state as good or excellent, with the remaining respondents rating ethics as fair (49 percent) or poor (40 percent). Nearly half said they believe ethics and honesty have declined over the past 10 years, while 51 percent said they were “very concerned” and 36 percent “somewhat concerned” about the influence of lobbyists and special interests on state government.
“These results bolster the case for the proposed overhaul of the state’s ethics and lobbying laws,” said Alasdair Roberts, the Jerome L. Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk Law School. “But the poll also shows justified skepticism about the effect of legal changes alone. Continued leadership also will be critical.”
While session participants debated various particulars of a House ethics bill the day before it was passed, the general consensus was that the fundamental elements of the bill were sound.
Under both the Task Force and the House version, the legislation will improve enforcement tools for the state Ethics Commission and the attorney general, increase penalties for violators, and clarify on who qualifies as lobbyists.