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Lawmakers Abused Funds

City Rep. and Six Others Paid for Trip Illegally

By Leondra R. Kruger

Seven Massachusetts officials, including House Speaker Charles F. Flaherty (D-Cambridge), used campaign funds last December to pay for a trip to puerto Rico that crossed the line between business and pleasure.

Now they'll have to pay for violating state law. The Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance said Wednesday that the seven legislators who spent an illegally funded attending a political conference, must restore the amount they spent on travel and accommodations to their campaign accounts.

"Our opinion is it's not enough to...just spend time on the beach talking politics," said Office of Campaign and Political Finance spokesperson James O'Reilly.

The seven legislators were scheduled to attend a Council of State Governments convention in San Juan, but instead spent their trip cavorting with eight lobbyists on the beach,.

Since the representatives did not attend the convention spending for the trip amounted to illegal "personal use" of campaign funds, O'Reilly said.

Three of the representatives--Emanuel G. Serra (D-East Boston), John F. Cox (D-Lowell) and Flaherty--have already reimbursed their campaign accounts for the money they spent on the Puerto Rican Trip.

Reps. Carmen D. Buell (D-Greenfield), Salvatore DiMisi (D-North End), Francis G. Mara (D-Brockton) and Angelo M. Scaccia (D-Readville) have yet to pay for their travel costs.

Failure to reply the money will result in prosecution by the state attorney general. Since it is a criminal offense the representative could face penalties of a fine up to $1,000 a year in jail, or both, O'Reilly said.

Buell told The Boston Globe yesterday that she went on the trip with the intention of "enhancing [her] effectiveness as a legislator."

But campaign finance officials said they are skeptical about that claim.

"If [the representatives] wanted to talkpolitics, it could have been done back here,"O'Reilly said. "It doesn't wash."

Common Cause, a political advocacy group,launched an investigation of the illegal activityafter a May Globe article reported that thelegislators did not, in fact, attend the Councilof State Governments conference.

"We said the activities appeared to be aviolation of the campaign finance laws," saidCommon Cause Executive Director Nathan S. Gibson.

"I think that it's just one in a long series ofevents that demonstrates the need for campaignfinance reform,' Gibson said.

Common Cause is now advocating a comprehensivecampaign finance reform bill which will appear onthe November ballot.

The proposal would ban gifts from lobbyist,lower contribution limits, limit funding fortravel and limit contributions from politicalaction committees.

The state Ethics Committee and the U.S.attorney's office are both attempting to clampdown on relationships between lobbyists andlawmakers, the Globe reported.

"This is not personal money for thecandidates," O'Reilly said. "It's the money peoplehave given them for the purposes of their beingelected or re-elected--it's not to supplementtheir personal lifestyle."

The seven representatives did not return phonecalls yesterday

"If [the representatives] wanted to talkpolitics, it could have been done back here,"O'Reilly said. "It doesn't wash."

Common Cause, a political advocacy group,launched an investigation of the illegal activityafter a May Globe article reported that thelegislators did not, in fact, attend the Councilof State Governments conference.

"We said the activities appeared to be aviolation of the campaign finance laws," saidCommon Cause Executive Director Nathan S. Gibson.

"I think that it's just one in a long series ofevents that demonstrates the need for campaignfinance reform,' Gibson said.

Common Cause is now advocating a comprehensivecampaign finance reform bill which will appear onthe November ballot.

The proposal would ban gifts from lobbyist,lower contribution limits, limit funding fortravel and limit contributions from politicalaction committees.

The state Ethics Committee and the U.S.attorney's office are both attempting to clampdown on relationships between lobbyists andlawmakers, the Globe reported.

"This is not personal money for thecandidates," O'Reilly said. "It's the money peoplehave given them for the purposes of their beingelected or re-elected--it's not to supplementtheir personal lifestyle."

The seven representatives did not return phonecalls yesterday

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