BOSTON – Today, the Massachusetts Republican State Party filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission after The Boston Globe reported Attorney General Martha Coakley did not disclose an apparent conflict of interest.
“As the state’s top law enforcement official, Martha Coakley has prosecuted individuals and entities for failing to adhere to the state conflict of interest laws. It should be alarming to voters that she doesn’t believe in holding herself to the same standards as the rest of us, and that this is the third instance of troubling ethical conduct by Ms. Coakley. First she violated campaign finance laws with her own committee and was fined $18,000, then she gave connected lobbyist a pass on allegations they fleeced Franciscan Hospital for Children, and now this,” said Kirsten Hughes, MassGOP Chairman. “Her failure to disclose that she was expending state resources at the request of the co-chair of her campaign finance committee is a clear violation of the state’s conflicts of interest statute and should be immediately investigated by the Ethics Commission.”
State Ethics Commission
ATTN: Honorable Barbara Dortch-Okara, chair
One Ashburton Place Room 619
Boston, MA 02108
Dear Chairwoman Dortch-Okara,
On behalf of the Massachusetts Republican Party, I write to ask that the State Ethics Commission conduct an immediate investigation into Martha Coakley’s conduct as documented in the Boston Globe’s October 16, 2014 article entitled “Coakley lawsuit has ties to backer’s interests.”
Based on the recent Globe report, the Massachusetts Republican Party requests an investigation into Coakley’s failure to disclose the nature of her relationship with Elysse Cherry, the CEO of Boston Community Capital, a co-chair of the finance committee of Coakley’s gubernatorial campaign.
As you know, the state’s conflict of interest laws, MGL 268A, contain a provision, Section 23(b)(3) which relates to apparent conflicts of interest.
That section states in relevant part:
“A state employee may not act in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to think that she would show favor toward someone, or that she can be improperly influenced. Section 23(b)(3) requires a state employee to consider whether her relationships and affiliations could prevent her from acting fairly and objectively when she performs her duties for the state. If she cannot be fair and objective because of a relationship or affiliation, she should not perform her duties. However, a state employee, whether elected or appointed, can avoid violating this provision by making a public disclosure of the facts.”
In the Globe article, Coakley is said not to have disclosed her relationship to Cherry because she determined that Section 23(b)(3) did not apply because Cherry’s contributions to Coakley were a matter of public record.
Since the publication of the story, more documentation has become available which establishes at least the following:
- Coakley sought clarity from Judy Zeprun an Assistant Attorney General within Coakley’s own office about whether she needed to make a disclosure related to the Fannie Mae lawsuit.
- The advice was sought only from within Coakley’s own AG’s office and it was first sought in October, 2014, after the Globe began its inquiry and had raised questions with Coakley’s campaign.
- The advice provided by Judy Zeprun is based only upon Cherry’s status as a donor, not as a campaign finance committee co-chair, or significant fundraiser.
- Coakley was aware that questions had been raised about her relationship to Cherry in this context of the Fannie Mae lawsuit as early as June, when Coakley declined to comment in a story in the National Mortgage News. (Kate Berry, “Well-Connected Nonprofit at Heart of Mass. AG’s Suit Against GSEs,” 6/10/14)
In her comments since the story, Coakley has reiterated her contention that she was not obligated to make any disclosure and has suggested that Cherry’s status as the head of a non-profit somehow removes any potential conflict.
But Section 23(b)(3) places an obligation upon a state employee to make disclosures when she has an apparent conflict. The law does not require disclosure only where there is pecuniary gain on the part of the non-state employee – instead it requires disclosure of the facts where a reasonable person could determine that, as here, the state employee could be improperly influenced.
Of all people, the state’s top law enforcement official who has prosecuted individuals and entities for all sorts of conflicts, should know not to initiate litigation on behalf of a campaign member and significant fundraiser without putting the public on notice that public funds were being used to support the business interests (non-profit or otherwise) of someone from whom she was receiving a direct financial benefit.
The Massachusetts Republican Party believes the rules requiring disclosures apply to politicians and state employees of all leanings, and that Martha Coakley should not be permitted to interpret the rules and approve her own conduct. Further, the Party believes that Coakley’s abuse of her position and state resources to curry favor with significant donors and campaign participants is a gross abuse of her office.
The Party hopes these apparent violations of state law are swiftly investigated and if found to be improper, that Coakley be held to account for her failure to disclose her relationship.
Kirsten Hughes, Chair
Massachusetts Republican Party