The Boston Herald
Saturday, April 22, 2000
Speaker vows probe of 'phantom' votes cast in House
by Cosmo Macero Jr. and Ellen J. Silberman
A day after angrily insisting his House was in order,
Speaker Thomas M. Finneran yesterday backed down and called for a special panel to probe
phantom voting and "inappropriate behavior" during a rowdy all-night budget
Finneran's abrupt change in stance - he had blasted
news reports of an "Animal House" atmosphere on Thursday -- came just hours
after the Herald reported that Rep. Kevin J. Murphy (D-Lowell) was on a plane to South
Carolina as votes were being cast in his name.
"I am determined ... to improve both the
substance and the image of our budget process," Finneran said in a prepared
statement. "It is incumbent on me to insure that neither fatigue nor horseplay create
an atmosphere of laxity regarding the rules of the House."
In the wake of Herald reports that House members
partied, drank and slept their way through the April 13 budget marathon, Finneran also
said he will consider banning all-night sessions -- at which critical legislation and
costly amendments have been gaveled through with no debate or discussion.
But some critics quickly noted that Finneran himself
allowed members to blow past a House-imposed 10 p.m. deadline for debate.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Paul Cellucci had called on
the House to launch an internal probe into the phantom voting scandal.
"It's inappropriate for people not to be present
... and having their votes recorded. That's a pretty serious thing," Cellucci said.
"I trust that the speaker will investigate this.... The House should be able to
internally handle that."
Cellucci added that it "really disturbs" him
that House members passed "major policy initiatives like gutting the clean elections
law (and) reducing regulations on lobbyists.
"Not only are they not debated, not only did they
not have a public hearing, they didn't even take a roll call," the governor said.
"The voters don't know where the legislators stand. That's not right."
Murphy told the Herald this week that he was baffled
to learn that votes were cast in his name at 7:30 a.m., 9:04 a.m. and 9:42 a.m. Friday --
long after he had departed the State House for a vacation in Hilton Head, S.C.
But Murphy also reportedly cast votes for other House
members last week in their absence -- raising further questions about the credibility of
House proceedings. He was not available for comment last night.
Sources say dozens of House members were asleep or
otherwise occupied late at night on April 13, as court officers and colleagues pressed
their voting buttons on several roll calls.
The rampant proxy voting, a clear violation of House
rules, came as some members partied and drank in State House offices and enjoyed beer,
wine and food samples at a privately sponsored event.
"Certainly we can all be upset about the
partying. The question isn't were (House members) partying. The question is why?"
said Rep. Christopher Hodgkins (D-Lee), a frequent critic of Finneran. "All the
legislators might as well give the speaker their votes by proxy. He calls the shots. He's
the one who suspended the (10 p.m.) rules."
Hodgkins blasted Finneran for acting like a
"school principal" yesterday, by calling for the internal probe and demanding
"a high standard of conduct," after acting like "the fraternity
president" on Thursday, when he defended House members' conduct.
Indeed, the tone for the week may have been set on
April 10, sources say, when Finneran authorized an early dinner break so that "one
member (could meet) an obligation outside the building."
Sources said that obligation was a political
fund-raiser for Rep. Thomas J. O'Brien (D-Kingston), which was well attended by House
members who consumed free alcohol at the event.
O'Brien was out of town yesterday and could not be
"Are House members going to act responsibly ...
are they going to allow this kind of process to continue?" asked Ken White, executive
director of Common Cause of Massachusetts. "Are they going to allow committees to
remain so inactive? Are they going to allow leadership to control how they vote?"
While Finneran plans to appoint a special committee to
probe House rules violations, Republican critics yesterday said that doesn't go far
"Who knows, maybe a court officer cast a vote on
the death penalty which failed by one vote in 1997," said GOP Executive Director John
Brockelman. "Speaker Finneran should come clean and identify every phantom vote cast
during the budget process last week."