Cape and Islands state Sen. Dan Wolf, joined by several other petitioners, will make a case to the state ethics commission next week for a regulation allowing him to remain in office despite his ownership in Cape Air.
In early August, the Massachusetts state ethics commission issued a decision that Mr. Wolf’s 23 per cent ownership in Cape Air poses a conflict of interest because the airline has contracts with Massachusetts Port Authority, which owns and operates Logan Airport.
The ethics commission said that to remain in office, Mr. Wolf would have to either divest of his ownership or the airline would have to stop flying into and out of Logan Airport. If not, he would have to resign his senate seat. The state ethics commission made its ruling based on section seven of the conflict of interest law, citing earlier commission opinions about state legislators. The commission gave Mr. Wolf a 30-day timeline to take action.
Mr. Wolf had announced his campaign for Massachusetts governor earlier in the summer. On August 22 Mr. Wolf said he planned to suspend his gubernatorial campaign and resign his senate seat at the end of August. About a week later, he announced that he had been granted an extension by the ethics commission and would petition the organization for a new regulation at their Sept. 19 meeting.
“I’m still in the race,” he told the Cape Cod Times in an interview this week, speaking about his campaign for governor. “There’s a bunch of scenarios that can play out. I am in a wait and see mode . . .”
Mr. Wolf declined an interview request with the Gazette.
The state ethics commission is an independent state agency consisting of five members — three appointed by the governor, one by the secretary of state, and one by the attorney general — who serve five-year terms. No more than two of the governor’s appointments, and no more than three members of the entire commission can be from the same political party. The commission is charged with enforcing the state’s conflict of interest and financial disclosure laws for public officials and employees.
At the commission’s meeting next Thursday, the board will consider the petition on behalf of Mr. Wolf and 11 others asking for regulation allowing those with a financial interest in a state agency to hold statewide elected office provided certain conditions.
Mr. Wolf’s co-petitioners include former state attorneys general Francis X. Bellotti and Scott Harshbarger, former Cong. William Delahunt and Pam Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.
An attached letter notes that the petitioners are not all in complete agreement; some disagree with the commission’s decision and others believe new legislation is warranted.
But the petition itself does not challenge the commission’s decision. “Instead, the petitioners take issue with its resulting tension with fundamental policies favoring equal access of all citizens to be elected to state constitutional offices,” the 10-page document reads in part.
The petition calls section seven of the ethics law pervasive and broad, and said it does not differentiate between contracts made by someone other than the state employee or contracts that are nonnegotiable and apply equally to all people.
Thus, the petition said, those who have jobs or a passive ownership in a family business would be disqualified from state office. It adds that the ethics commission has the power to create exemptions from applying the conflict of interest law.
The proposed regulation would create an exemption from the law in certain circumstances. The exemption would apply to those who make a full written disclosure of the relevant state contract and nature of the interest, and the individual cannot have participated as a state employee in the making of the contract. The contract must have standardized terms that apply equally to similarly situated people or entities, and all other provisions of the law would continue to apply.
A spokesman from the ethics commission said next week’s hearing will likely take place in public session. The commission, which can only conduct business if there is a quorum, can either approve the request, not approve the request, or take it under advisement.
In a Sept. 5 statement released through his campaign, Mr. Wolf said the petition initiative “both respects the ethics commission’s mandate and furthers the cause of participatory government. Its adoption would also allow me to continue in public service and face the fundamental challenge in our state and nation: rebuild our economy from the middle out, invest in education and infrastructure, acknowledge that the ‘recovery’ is not working for too many, and work for economic and social justice.”