Prediction: It Will Be a Long Time Before Inspector General Sits for Another Q & A

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I clicked on the CommonWealth magazine interview with the Inspector General of the Commwealth of Massachusetts, Greg Sullivan, last week just to check out what he was saying. I didn't expect to find anything especially interesting, nor did I think I would be startled.

Boy was I wrong.

The interviewer, Colman Herman, opened the discussion with Sullivan by asking if anything had changed in state government since 1980, when the Ward Commission "reported that corruption was a way of life in Massachusetts, that political influence, not professional performance, was the prime criterion in doing business with the state, and that shoddy work and debased standards were the norm."

Sullivan, who served as Norwood's representative in the legislature in the Eighties and Nineties, and has been Inspector General since 2002, answered, "I think they have changed for the better overall. There are safeguards that have been put in place that I think have ameliorated to a great extent the problems that existed at the time of the Ward Commission. The Legislature set up ways to try to catch the crooks. We now have a very robust competitive procurement system for contracts."

"But," Colman persisted, "it's the rare week when you can't pick up a newspaper and read about yet another corrupt politician."

"It's a never-ending battle," conceded Sullivan, "because there is a subculture of corruption on Beacon Hill made up of people who always find opportunities to exploit the system to their advantage, but to the detriment of the public. It's a never-ending battle against the tide of people inside and outside of government who seek to use undue influence to affect government and to capitalize on loopholes. Influence peddling is probably as bad today as it ever was. It is unabated. And there's always a new loophole, a new trick, an artifice someone finds to get around existing law. We are engaged in a constant effort to close new loopholes. People have been able to find more wily, creative ways to do things that are difficult to catch. And it's not just in the Legislature, we see it all over government."

Wow, I thought, this is huge!

The Inspector General, who has legal responsibilities to detect and prevent "fraud, waste and abuse in the expenditure of public funds" (and a $2.8 million budget to fulfill that mission), is now on the record as endorsing the jaded view that a "subculture of corruption" exists on Beacon Hill.

Big headlines in the newspapers and dramatic pronouncements from TV anchors can't be far behind, I figured. This is the Inspector General speaking, not some barking dog in the blogosphere.

Reading on, I was startled again when, in response to a question on the legal problems encountered by three consecutive former Speakers of the Massachusetts House, Sullivan said, in part, "...They (Speakers) have a strong desire for money and they have opportunity. In the case of Speaker DiMasi, you have an example of an abuse of power that was tolerated by the membership for years. I was in the House for seventeen years, and one thing I observed was that there was an inordinate deference given by the membership to the speaker to a phenomenal degree..."

I thought: That's the kind of stuff that will shake the foundation at the State House. Sullivan must know what he is saying, he must have stuff to back this up, he must be getting ready to issue a report with some new, blockbuster findings.

CommonWealth posted the Sullivan interview online Tuesday, Oct. 4. Since then, the piece has not generated any big headlines, or caused any fall-out whatsoever, that I am aware of.

Checking for new developments today, Oct. 12, I returned to the magazine's web site and was surprised again -- this time by a comment on the interview that the Inspector General had posted on Friday, Oct. 7. It was the first comment that a reader had bothered to post. This is what the Inspector General wrote:

"I want to elaborate on my answer to the fourth question above. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has found that there was no financial gain or motive underlying (former-Speaker Thomas Finneran's) conduct. This differentiates Speaker Finneran's offense in a significant way from that of former-Speaker DiMasi with respect to motive. My response to this question was intended to address former-Speaker DiMasi's offenses, which my office helped to uncover and prosecute. Secondly, I did not mean to imply that Beacon Hill has an overarching 'culture of corruption,' because I am convinced that the opposite is true. An overwhelming majority of government leaders act with honesty and try to prevent corrupt activities from taking place. Unfortunately, as I pointed out in Coleman Herman's Q&A article, I believe that a small subculture of corruption has existed and continues to exist, as evidenced by continuing examples of criminal convictions."

All of us, I imagine, have had our Roseanne Roseannadanna moments, when, caught on a rickety verbal scaffolding of our own making, we have to climb down while muttering the word, "Nevermind." The Inspector General has just had his, to the great relief of the Massachusetts Legislature.

To read the interview with Sullivan, go to and click on article headlined, "IG sees subculture of corruption. Sullivan calls special education a 'money pit' "

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