Reporting Conflicts of Interest in Government in Massachusetts

The constitutional amendment is being modified for improvement.

An Initiative Petition for a Constitutional Amendment Relative to Public Knowledge of Conflicts of Interest of Government Officers and Candidates Thereof

TENTATIVE SUMMARY FOR 2023 SUBMISSION

This constitutional amendment proposes information on potential conflicts of interest for some government officers is to be free, conducive to research, and made easily accessible for the public. Conflict of interest reporting shall include summaries regarding:

    • how conflicts of interest are handled (e.g. recusing self)
    • required financial disclosures (financial disclosures including stocks, property, income tax returns, including of spouse)
    • donors & campaign funding
    • potential favoritism (e.g. nepotism, cronyism)
    • policy positions and work products of the officer or candidate.
    • information on backers, critics, and endorsers (e.g. whether heavily industry sponsored)

Privacy of social security number shall be protected, along with the names of minors. In the 2021 submission, there were several exemptions to disclosures that will likely not be put forward in the 2023 proposed ballot question.

An elected official with a term of 15 years, who must have a demonstrated history of investigative reporting and journalism to be a candidate, shall direct such investigations and reporting about the following officers:

      • state elected officials,
      • chief clerks of the state senate and state house of representatives,
      • unfortunately, not judges since this is prohibited by the Constitution,
      • chief executive officers & others with authority over state agencies and institutions (e.g. boards, commissions),
      • employees of the state who are engaged in supervisory, policy-making, or policy-enforcing work,
      • any person undertaking to exercise the powers of a state officer
      • candidates for any of the above,
      • candidates for the federal MA delegation in House and Senate, the president and VP.

Municipal officers can also be included in this process by statute and individual municipalities can request inclusion.

Failure to file the necessary data and disclosures relevant to conflicts of interest with the office, under penalty of perjury, shall result in not being placed on the ballot. State officers shall also lose pay and office. The General Court shall create a standard procedure for judicial appeal through legislation for when failure to file is based upon substantiated acute illness or calamity.

The office shall audit data and disclosures filed of conflicts of interest randomly and as recommended by whistleblowers, but shall not engage in or initiate court proceedings or investigations but instead report suspicious activity to authorities vested with this responsibility.

An appointee with public administration and finance experience shall serve under the elected official but the appointee may be removed at the request of the director for just cause with the approval of any 2 of the following state officers: governor, state auditor, state attorney, and Senate President .

Disclosures shall be filed with one copy redacted in part to protect confidential information and some privacy, and a redacted copy shall be available for public viewing by request.

When or if the office is under-resourced, the office shall focus first on elected officials and candidates thereof, secondly on officers and candidates thereof reported by whistleblowers, and thirdly on the officers and candidates thereof of the executive branch.

Please note that the constitutional amendment can be amended by the legislature, as discussed and addressed here.

 

WHY SUPPORT THIS BILL

For more information on why please see this page.

In brief, no centralized easy-to-read source exists of conflicts of interest, especially of Massachusetts state and federal officers, and even where data exists, such as tax returns, stock information, nonprofit endorsers, and campaign funds, many lack time and ability to interpret data.

While Massachusetts asks for some incomplete conflict of interest reporting, the information is not shared with the public. Asking for information on conflicts of interest requires that you give your name and this is shared with the person about whom you are asking. Auditing is minimal. Most auditing happens around government monies, but doesn’t look closely at private money transactions or the influence of donors. Conflict of interest reporting lacking verification and public awareness does little to end corruption.

In Massachusetts, investigators, who double as judges of conflicts of interest, are appointees mainly of the governor rather than independent elected officials. Appointees lack the authority of independent elected officials.

Creating an agency with some independence and ability by virtue of directorship by an elected official with a background in investigative reporting and journalism would help to insure information is presented clearly to the public, and that there is funded investigative research. Many journalists lack ability to do so and often media has its own conflicts of interest. The term of office is long as this investigative position merits protection and time.

A centralized public platform could make conflicts of interest very clear, and thus help with the accountability through voting and public pressure.

Separating investigative reporting from legal investigations is also useful as this gives full attention to each process and two avenues for encouraging change.