Dark clouds of doubt surround Sal DiMasi’s speakership.
To clear those clouds, the speaker needs to be candid and forthcoming. Instead, DiMasi has sought refuge in the letter of the law, lawyerly hair-splitting, and dubious distinctions.
The latest example: The speaker filed his financial disclosure statement this week, but once again didn’t reveal the amount his wife, Deborah DiMasi, makes for her work with Christy Cashman, the wife of contractor Jay Cashman, a close friend of the speaker. Mrs. DiMasi and Mrs. Cashman co-host a television show produced by a company the Cashmans own.
Asked why he hadn’t, DiMasi noted that the law doesn’t require an elected official to disclose his wife’s income. True enough. Still, Deborah DiMasi’s compensation is highly relevant, for this reason. Jay Cashman has any number of business interests in this state – and as the Globe’s Frank Phillips has reported, those interests have stood to benefit from behind-the-scenes actions the speaker has taken.
Cashman, for example, hopes to build a wind farm on Buzzards Bay. Last year, DiMasi quietly tucked into energy legislation an amendment that, had it become law, would have helped clear the way for such a project.
Queried about that and other actions, DiMasi initially asserted that he and Cashman never discuss the contractor’s various plans or projects or legislation affecting them. He has said much the same about other close friends, friends like his accountant and financial adviser Richard Vitale. As Andrea Estes and Stephen Kurkjian have reported in the Globe, Vitale, who in 2006 extended DiMasi a $250,000 third mortgage, was later hired to help the professional ticket brokers in their efforts to lift ticket-resale restrictions.
Vitale’s role was news to him, DiMasi would have us believe. “I had no idea that he was working for them . . . ,” the speaker said. “He’s never talked to me about any legislation at all.”
Hmmmm. We do know, however, that DiMasi has talked business with at least one of his powerful friends. In February, Joe O’Donnell, a co-owner at casino-coveting Suffolk Downs, told the Globe that when he and DiMasi golfed, he tried to bring the speaker around on casinos. So there’s reason to doubt that DiMasi keeps things as compartmentalized as he claims.
That doubt doubles when it comes to Cashman. Here’s what DiMasi said when first asked about Cashman and his business interests: “We don’t talk about those things. It’s all policy driven,” adding in the same April interview that “I don’t talk about his business with him and he doesn’t talk about it with me.”
Problem: As Phillips reported last week, DiMasi met privately with Cashman and his consultant in the speaker’s office last October to discuss easing permitting rules for wind farms.
Now, by most conventional understandings, that would seem to fall into the category of discussing Cashman’s business interests. Questioned about the meeting, DiMasi maintained that they hadn’t specifically talked about Cashman’s wind farm plans. Further, he claimed to have thought the Globe’s original question pertained only to whether he and Cashman discussed business in social settings.
“It was not my intention to give the impression that I didn’t meet with Mr. Cashman,” he said.
All that hair-splitting strains credulity. And it raises this question: If DiMasi wasn’t trying to be evasive in April, why didn’t the speaker mention then that he had met with Cashman in his office?
Hobbled by controversy, DiMasi needs to commit himself to restoring public confidence.
A first step should be full disclosure of any money or other financial benefits his wife, and therefore the DiMasi household, receives from the Cashmans’ company.
A second should be a promise to recuse himself from the specifics of issues where any friend stands to benefit.
A third: to ask the State Ethics Commission to include the Cashman matter in its probe, if it hasn’t already.
A fourth: to make public all testimony he offers before the commission.
For its part, the commission, whose past investigations have sometimes dragged on like the court case Jarndyce and Jarndyce in “Bleak House,” needs to ensure that the various issues surrounding DiMasi are investigated in expeditious fashion, that the facts are fully disclosed – and that its judgment isn’t swayed by the shadow of the speaker’s power.
By Scot Lehigh
30 May 2008
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