Phantom votes cast in wild spending session

The Boston Herald
Friday, April 21, 2000

House broken:
Phantom votes cast in wild spending session

by Cosmo Macero Jr. and Ellen J. Silberman

At the tail end of a raucous all-night budget session, one state lawmaker was recorded as voting three times, even though he was 30,000 feet in the air flying to a South Carolina resort, the Herald has learned.

The phantom votes of Rep. Kevin J. Murphy (D-Lowell) -- cast by an unknown party in apparent violation of House rules hours after Murphy had departed on vacation -- threaten to further tarnish the House at a time when critics are charging its members are out of control.

"If anybody cast a vote for me it was absolutely unauthorized. Nobody was authorized to vote for me," Murphy said.

The marathon budget session, at which lawmakers spent freely while gutting state ethics rules, is already in the spotlight because of Herald reports that lawmakers drank, partied and slept their way through the night.

Murphy, who left the State House last Friday at 6 a.m. for a vacation in Hilton Head, S.C., last night claimed to be baffled by House records showing he voted at 7:30 a.m., 9:04 a.m. and 9:42 a.m.

The three Murphy votes -- one on a quorum call, another to increase community college spending by $3 million, and a third to engross the $22 billion House budget - followed a bleary night in which dozens of snoozing state reps had their voting buttons pushed by colleagues and court officers.

The lawmaker said he is "very much" troubled by the votes made without his knowledge.

"I was there all week long. I voted on all the amendments myself. I felt confident I could go with my family on vacation," he said.

House rules allow court officers to cast votes for members only if "a physical disability" prevents a member from casting a vote himself. Any member who is at the rostrum presiding over the House in the speaker's absence may also vote by proxy.

The new revelations come as House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran just yesterday admitted that he routinely allows court officers to vote for members who are in meetings during House sessions.

"It's a travesty," said Ken White of Common Cause of Massachusetts. "The Legislature has been accused of being a rubber stamp. This is even worse."

The all-night budget session, according to sources, also featured various parties in House offices -- after a private beer and wine tasting benefit shut down an hour later than planned.

Yesterday, meanwhile, as Finneran angrily defended the members' conduct, lawmakers approved a pay raise for one of Finneran's top lieutenants -- Education Chairwoman Lida Harkins (D-Needham), who coincidentally had sponsored the ill-timed wine and beer tasting.

The $7,500 raise for Harkins was gaveled through the House in violation of an internal rule that prohibits members from increasing their pay less than seven months before an election.

Because no one at the sparsely attended House session objected, the raise flew through the chamber and was approved by the Senate.

"Don't tell me the rules only count if someone is there to object," said Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "As they're all being attacked for their toga party, they pass another pay raise for the person who arranged the wine and beer party."

Harkins defended the raise, saying she'd been promised the money when she left the $61,410-a-year chairmanship of the Science and Technology Committee for the $53,910-a-year job at education.

"My pay has been cut the last three months and I'm not too happy about it," Harkins said. "I have been pushing this every single week."

The legislation also gave Senate Education Chairman Robert A. Antonioni (D-Leominster) a $7,500 raise. He did not return calls to his home or law office.

Harkins said the education post is even more time consuming than her job at the science panel, but Anderson noted Finneran recently stole the power of the Education Committee by inserting a controversial rewrite of the state's special education laws in the budget. Harkins was then sent to the House floor to defend Finneran's plan.

"This is no time to be giving pay raises to committee chairmen when we're all beginning to realize that no committee chairman has any more responsibility than any other member under Speaker Finneran," Anderson said.

White from Common Cause said the House "increasingly breaks its own rules, neutralizes its own committees and marginalizes its members."

Even Finneran, while condoning limited use of the proxy vote, said he would consider it "inappropriate" for members to use such tactics if they're asleep or away from the State House.

"The rule is that each member should vote their own button, and obviously not send someone else to do it," Finneran said. "There have been times ... if I'm in a meeting in my office ... I will call the court officer at the rostrum and ask them to vote for Representative so and so and such and such. It saves them a trip out."

Howie Carr contributed to this report.

The Boston Herald
Friday, April 21, 2000

Speaker: We don't babysit the House
by Cosmo Macero Jr. and Ellen J. Silberman

Fighting criticism that partying lawmakers turned the sober House of Representatives into an "Animal House" during a marathon budget debate, Speaker Thomas M. Finneran said yesterday he "never saw nor heard of any behavior that was inappropriate."

In an angry response to revelations that House members were drinking and sleeping their way through budget votes, Finneran declared a Herald report on the rowdy April 13 session "outrageous" and "irresponsible."

But the speaker quickly admitted that "We don't babysit (House members) and we can't guarantee that everybody is going to act in a perfect fashion."

"I'll concede the members are sometimes looking for a release. Once a member has completed his or her work and sees nothing ahead of them for a few hours, they're free to do whatever they choose," Finneran (D-Mattapan) said. "I'm not going to micromanage their lives."

While the House added tens of millions of dollars to the state's budget last Thursday night -- and torpedoed campaign finance reform -- some members partied in House offices, downed beer and wine at a private party sponsored as a benefit for The Greater Boston Advertising Club and took lengthy naps while others cast votes for them.

Government watchdogs said the carrying on -- during what Finneran acknowledged was the most important debate of the year -- suggests the speaker has such a grip on how House members vote that they no longer care.

"There is no representative Democracy in Massachusetts. And now we have a visual ... the picture of `Animal House,'" said Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "It reflects the reality on Beacon Hill."

At one point last week House members broke out into a chant of "Toga! Toga!" prompting Assistant Majority Whip Salvatore DiMasi (D-Boston) to call for "order in the Animal House."

The celebratory atmosphere was also evident during an impassioned speech by Rep. Paul Casey (D-Winchester), who drew cheers and catcalls from House members during debate on gun safety measures.

"That silliness is out of place too," Anderson said. "This the image people should have of the Legislature because this is the way the Legislature is."

The speaker also defended freshman Rep. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston), who admitted to having wine at the private party before falling asleep for two hours in his office.

"If a member went down and had a glass or two of wine during the course of a weeklong effort, I don't think that's irresponsible behavior," Finneran said.

Anderson called that notion absurd. "There's no responsible drinking on the job," she said.

Still, Republicans and government watchdogs said the boisterous late-night atmosphere is indicative of the perils inherent in all-night sessions.

"It's a ridiculous way to operate. By two or three o'clock in the morning, you're a zombie," said Rep. Ronald Gauch (R-Shrewsbury). "Business doesn't get done the way it should be done."

Rep. George Peterson (R-Grafton), who acknowledged that several House colleagues attended the beer and wine party, admitted to napping for 45 minutes during the budget session.

But he, too, denounced the Democrat-led push to debate all night into the next morning.

"I'm concerned that we're doing the people's business after that hour, in the middle of the night," Peterson said. "But I don't control 160 members."

Ken White, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, said, "You can't expect good decisions from people who are being put through a marathon session and are not being given enough information.

"You've got all these people running around, sleep-deprived, partying like frat boys," White said. "When people are sleep-deprived, they react in different ways. Some people get silly, others get irritable. Most make bad decisions."

Anderson said members should have known better than to have approved the all-night session in the first place. "They're all guilty. They know they get silly at night."

Late-night sessions, which had been limited by House reforms in the early 1990, have become traditional at budget time. This year, lawmakers were criticized for rushing to approve the budget in time to catch planes out of town for school vacation week.

The Boston Herald
Friday, April 21, 2000

Finneran may not be able to shake this scandal off
Analysis/by Joe Battenfeld

The House's late-night spending and partying spree has tarnished Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's image as a fiscal reformer and perhaps permanently damaged his statewide ambitions.

Finneran was at the helm late last week when lawmakers gaveled through hundreds of spending amendments in the middle of an all-night budget session in which some members were reportedly fueled with alcohol.

The speaker vigorously defended the budget process and his members yesterday, but critics said he was likely to take the fall for the public relations fiasco.

"I'm sure he wishes he had this one back," one top Democrat said. "It's one of those things that has captured the public's imagination."

The passage of the Finneran-led budget has also taken some pressure off Gov. Paul Cellucci and given Republicans a ready-made weapon in this fall's election.

GOP officials yesterday sent out memos to all their prospective candidates, urging them to criticize their Democratic opponents for the spending marathon.

Republicans have had trouble recruiting legitimate legislative candidates and are unlikely to make any major gains this fall. But some GOP opponents may benefit from the budget fallout.

"They handed us an issue," party Executive Director John Brockelman said. "We are telling candidates to run hard against the pork and perks in this budget."

For the embattled Cellucci, the House hijinks of last week were a godsend. The Republican governor has been badly damaged by the Big Dig's fiscal woes but now he has a chance to turn his guns against lawmakers, who are viewed with even more disdain by the public.

Cellucci has already vowed to veto House legislation icing the voter-approved Clean Elections law and shielding lobbyists from disclosure requirements.

Both of those amendments, like much of the budget, were approved late at night and with virtually no debate.

But Cellucci is also likely to veto dozens of spending amendments, which some critics claim have put the budget more than $150 million out of whack.

"It's going to enable Cellucci to justify all his vetoes," one prominent Massachusetts Democrat said of the House action. "It allows him to get into the battle."

Finneran appears particularly vulnerable to criticism. He came into the speaker's office with a reputation as a fiscal conservative and held the line on such high-profile issues as funding for a new Patriots stadium.

He also has drawn sharp criticism from some lawmakers for quashing debate on controversial issues.

Finneran has been weighing a possible gubernatorial bid in 2002, but Democratic sources say he is now leaning strongly against making a run for higher office in two years. Some Democrats have suggested he may be more interested in running for Boston mayor but current Mayor Thomas M. Menino shows no signs of leaving anytime soon.

History shows that few legislative leaders have had success in moving on to higher office. Part of the problem has been nights like last Thursday, when rowdy members shouted and acted more like fraternity brothers than elected officials.

"The shenanigans in the House (last week) is largely the reason nobody from the leadership has ever gotten elected to statewide office," one Democratic official said.

Sources said Senate President Thomas M. Birmingham, who is seriously preparing for a 2002 gubernatorial bid, wants to avoid a repeat of the House follies when the Senate takes up the budget next month.

The Boston Herald
Friday, April 21, 2000

Mistah Speakah should rein in frat boys
by Howie Carr

Meet Tom Finneran, of whom it might be said, in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed bald man shall lead.

Right now Finneran is the speaker of the House of Representatives. What Dean Wermer was to Animal House, Mistah Speakah is to the State House.

And right now he's plenty annoyed.

"The institution," he says, and he means the House, not Faber College, "has been maligned, and it has been maligned in an inappropriate and ill-informed manner."

How dare we take their own quotes from their own Gavel-to-Gavel videotape and put them in the newspaper.

"Toga! Toga! Toga!"

Mistah Speakah, instead of ripping us, you should be taking your members aside for a little heart-to-heart, like the one Dean Wermer had with Flounder.

"Son," the speaker could tell Rep. Anthony Petruccelli, the napper from Noddle Island, "fat drunk and stupid is no way to go through life."

OK, so Petruccelli's a string bean. Otherwise the quote fits.

Not that he's the only rep who belongs in a movie this week. There's Rep. Kevin Murphy (D-Lowell) who was still casting roll-call votes as he winged his way south on a commercial airliner to a golf resort in South Carolina.

Call Murphy's screen gem, "Thirty Seconds over Hilton Head."

Toga! Toga! Toga!

But how about this Petruccelli kid? Is he the poster boy for the new House or what?

Age 27, he's out of Mumbles' mob. He succeeded a guy named Gus Serra, who was in the legislature for 30 years before Joe Bergantino started chasing him down North Washington Street with a camera crew. It takes this kid six months to grab the headlines, because he had a "couple of glasses" of wine with dinner.

Who knew the State House had a two-drink minimum?

After his vino, Petruccelli then grabbed a short power nap, during which time he may or may not have had one of his legs shaved. He says no, but he declined an invitation yesterday to bare his gams for the cameras.

Next time Petruccelli has a tight race it'll be described as a close shave. They'll say he won by a razor-thin margin.

"He's a good kid," said someone from Ward 1. "But he's got to learn that these people up there are not his friends."

Good Lord, aren't you supposed to have figured that out by the time you're 12 years old?

So Finneran yesterday is in high dudgeon (look it up, reps) about the Animal House headline and story on page one. It's sticking to him like Velcro. So he says nobody passed out -- er, went to sleep -- before dealing with amendments affecting their districts.

Like, we're supposed to believe Finneran's ham-and-eggers read the amendments. Do they even know where the can is anymore? And how well do most of them read, period?

OK, so last week's Animal House antics were nothing new for the Legislature. A rep from Plymouth once mooned the gallery. Some solons used to bring hookers in. Now they maybe shave each other's legs. Althea Garrison is even more interested in a comeback now.

Once upon a time, though, a few reps were, for lack of a better word, serious. But the General Court has had a worse string of drafts than Bobby Grier.

Last week, they even attempted to hand out $7,500 pay raises to the "assistant chairmen."

Do you know what an assistant chairman does? On those rare occasions when the House leadership doubts whether it has the votes to get a bill out of committee, the speaker tells the majority leader to tell the whip to tell the chairman to tell the assistant chairman to "poll the members."

Which consists of the assistant chairman, so-called, taking a piece of paper and a pen and walking up to the backbenchers, rousing them from their drunken stupors, or as they hail a cab to Logan, to ask them, "Are you with us?"

Meanwhile, recurring question comes to the gentleman from Boston. Did they take it off, Representative Petruccelli? Did they take it all off?

NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to:

Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page