Ex-lobbyist reveals how the MA House really works
Many of you may already be aware of this. For those of you new to the lobbying process, this is a good read on how democracy is failing us in Massachusetts. From CommonWealth:
Ex-lobbyist reveals how the House really works
Forget what you saw in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’
PHILLIP SEGO Dec 19, 2018
AT THE MASSACHUSETTS State House, I stepped outside of a packed hearing on updating the state’s bottle bill to speak with a young reporter for a western Massachusetts weekly. I had been “holding court” with the press all morning – giving them the Sierra Club’s point of view on the proposed legislation. I enjoyed this type of work immensely, as reporters were generally sympathetic to environmental bills and asked interesting questions.
But on this day, I was tired, frustrated, and not in a very good mood.
“How will the vote go?” a young reporter asked me.
“What vote? They’re not voting today,” I replied.
“When will the vote be? Next week?” he asked.
“Probably never,” I shot back.
“But isn’t the majority of the committee in favor of it? Won’t they call for a vote?” he queried
That moment, I broke an unspoken but absolutely firm rule among lobbyists: never criticize the State House political system. “Let me be clear,” I asserted. “Don’t confuse what goes on in this building with democracy.”
And that’s exactly what he printed.
Massachusetts is often seen as the home of American democracy. It was home to John Adams, who was not only the state constitution’s primary author, he was also one of the authors of the United States Constitution. In fact, the Massachusetts constitution served as a model for the US Constitution. But, over the years, weaknesses in our state constitution became more evident. The most glaring problem was that the House speaker, whose position was originally created to keep order and facilitate the passage of legislation, was given the potential to amass an inordinate amount of power.
Exposing the flaws in a political system requires criticism of it. It’s difficult – taboo, actually — for anyone who’s part of the process to engage in this type of criticism. Any lobbyist who criticizes the State House’s power structure would instantly become ineffective, shunned by both Democrats and Republicans. Reporters who expose the system’s corruption would lose access to their sources. Even State House staff, as we’ve recently learned, were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements upon their departure. The system thus protects itself from scrutiny.
Some years ago, representing the Massachusetts Sierra Club, I met with Speaker Robert DeLeo along with other allied groups. I had been in numerous meetings with the Speaker. This meeting was the culmination of many months of hard work by me and many other lobbyists. I told him that a coalition of groups had polled members of the House and we knew that a sizeable majority of the members supported our bill
“They’ve privately told me that they really don’t want your bill to pass,” the Speaker said.
Whether this was true or not isn’t relevant. It’s possible that the House Speaker had no conversations with anyone about our bill. Or maybe our bill really was secretly unpopular. I’ll never know. But what I immediately came to realize was that I could have 159 of the 160 members all love a bill, but unless I had the Speaker’s “blessing” I had nothing.