GOP official sees emails as pointing to MassDOT role in tax campaign

THINKSTOCK
THINKSTOCK

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 30, 2014…..A second email – this one from a Worcester Regional Chamber Commerce official – is being looked at by the Massachusetts Republican Party for possible conflict of interest law violations related to MassDOT’s use of public resources for campaigning against the gas tax indexing repeal effort.
Organizers behind the ballot petition released an email on Wednesday sent by a senior Massachusetts Department of Transportation official distributing talking points internally that could be used to argue against the ballot question. Secretary Richard Davey said the email sent by his deputy secretary for communications Cyndi Roy Gonzalez did not violate conflict laws that prohibit the use of public resources or time for political campaign purposes.

While supporters of the ballot question wait to hear back about their request for an Ethics Commission investigation, a MassGOP official said they are now looking into another email sent by Stuart Loosemore, the general counsel and director of government affairs at the WRCC, that distributed Gonzalez’s talking points to members of the Massachusetts Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

MassGOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes said the Loosemore email shows that MassDOT is being used as “the pro-gas tax campaign headquarters” and called on Gov. Deval Patrick to discipline Davey.

The talking points were requested by the association, and Loosemore wrote that Gonzalez would be willing to arrange a speaking engagement with Davey or pull together a list of projects in any chamber’s area that would “be in jeopardy should the repeal pass.”

While the conflict of interest law and public campaign finance law both ban the use of public resources – including email – for the purpose of political campaigning, appointed public officials in policy-making roles within government are given some latitude to present information to inform public debate and speak publicly about ballot questions that fall into their policy arena.

Campaign finance regulations explicitly allow state officials to distribute information about their position or their agency’s analysis of a ballot question to groups that request it, and may also appear at public forums so long and public resources are not used to political advertising or mass mailings to advocate a position.

Rafael Mares, staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation who is active in transportation issues, said policy makers are allowed to discuss the impacts of a ballot question on their funding, and noted that the gas tax indexing repeal is not even an official ballot question yet and won’t be until at least July when final signatures are due.

“The proponents of repealing the gas tax are consistent in getting the facts of the law wrong,” Mares said.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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