Dem State Committee Backs DiZoglio In Audit Battle
Bucking opposition from Beacon Hill Democrats to fellow Democrat, Auditor Diana DiZoglio's quest to audit the Legislature, Massachusetts Democratic Party members have endorsed the Methuen Democrat's push to inject more transparency and oversight into the often opaque legislative process.
For months, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka have resisted DiZoglio's audit attempts, arguing she lacks the authority under state law -- and that the information she's seeking is available for public review or is already audited by other entities.
The Democratic State Committee on a unanimous voice vote accepted a resolution Wednesday night backing DiZoglio's efforts to hold the Legislature accountable, a MassDems spokesman said. The resolution states the party "endorses the state auditor’s initiatives, including any necessary legal action against any impediments to their audit efforts."
The diverse committee is composed of 400 Democrats from throughout the state, and about half participated in the hybrid meeting held at First Parish Dorchester, a MassDems spokesman said.
Under party rules, members are not required to disclose conflicts of interests ahead of voting because the resolutions are non-binding, the spokesman said. There were no objections Wednesday to the resolutions package, which included the proposal dealing with the auditor, the spokesman said.
The resolution states that "the Legislature often operates with limited public oversight, having not been audited in over three decades" and the Legislature's "exemptions around pivotal transparency laws such as the Open Meeting Law, Public Records Law, and Conflict of Interest Law, highlight a significant accountability gap."
Buoyed by the non-binding stamp of approval from party members, DiZoglio indicated Thursday she might soon use that momentum as she weighs her office's legal options to enable her review of the Legislature.
"It sends a clear message that everyday Democrats from every corner of the commonwealth support our efforts to audit the Legislature to help increase transparency, accountability and accessibility," DiZoglio told the News Service. "That is a pretty strong statement of support considering the tremendous push-back we have received on being able to access the justice system on behalf of our efforts to fulfill our mandate."
Asked what legal action is under consideration by her office with MassDems' new support through the resolution, DiZoglio told the News Service it's "premature to have that conversation."
"Our team is conducting a thorough review of the 17-page rebuttal that the attorney general sent our way supporting legislative leaders' arguments against an audit, so we are ensuring that a very thorough review is conducted before making any statements," said DiZoglio, who suggested a path forward would be ironed out sometime after Thanksgiving.
She added, "MassDems make it clear they support any legal action to ensure compliance with the state Legislature."
Attorney General Andrea Campbell earlier this month said DiZoglio lacks the authority to audit the Legislature without lawmakers' consent. Mariano and Spilka applauded Campbell's decision, saying in a joint statement that it "reinforced our long-held position that the Auditor does not have the statutory or constitutional authority to audit any other separate branch of government."
DiZoglio, who had appealed to Campbell in July for help with a potential lawsuit to audit the Legislature, said she disagreed with the attorney general and would still conduct a review even if it triggered a lawsuit from the Legislature.
The auditor said her focus for now is on the signature-collecting effort underway for a possible 2024 ballot question seeking a law to explicitly outline the auditor's ability to probe the Legislature. Supporters need to file signatures from at least 74,574 registered voters with local elections officials by Wednesday.
"Obviously we see this as some pretty high-level support from the Democratic Party," said Nancy Stenberg, a State Committee member and co-founder of the progressive group Our Revolution Massachusetts. She said the resolution can be used to support the ballot initiative.
The resolution, crafted by DiZoglio and ORMA, was initially proposed but not voted on at the party's convention in September. Ahead of the convention, DiZoglio said party Chairman Steve Kerrigan indicated it would be problematic if she spoke about the resolution, a claim that he called a "work of fiction."
Kerrigan was not made available Thursday to discuss the resolution.
"The Massachusetts Democratic Party wholeheartedly supports periodic, independent audits of the Massachusetts Legislature to strengthen the pillars of transparency, efficiency, and fiscal responsibility within the Massachusetts Legislature and appeals to all legislative members to fully and transparently support this pivotal task," the resolution states.
Under party procedures it was sent to the Resolutions Subcommittee, which held two virtual public hearings on the proposal.
On a 14-3 vote in executive session Monday, the subcommittee recommended that the full State Committee adopt the resolution, said subcommittee member J. Michael Gilbreath. A subcommittee member who works for DiZoglio recused himself from the vote, Gilbreath said.
Gilbreath said he was surprised by the subcommittee's vote after some longtime State Committee members voiced concerns.
"It also certainly raised eyebrows," said Gilbreath, who voted for the resolution. "I fall in the category of people who are just immensely frustrated with the Legislature that seems to do things in secret without any clear understanding of who's doing what to whom and when."
The unanimous vote to endorse DiZoglio's audit by the State Committee was less surprising, Gilbreath said, since the resolution was bundled with others in support of legislative employees' unionization push, single-payer health care and hybrid party conventions.
The stance of MassDems' leadership is now on the record, Gilbreath said, which he called a "step in the right direction" for the auditor.
"The Legislature's leadership resistance to doing it is not a good look for them and certainly doesn't endear the voting public in trusting what they say," Gilbreath said.