By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
NEWTON -- The two Democrats and one Republican vying for attorney general differed in rhetoric Thursday when asked whether the state's top law enforcement officer should investigate allegations that Auditor Suzanne Bump mixed politics with the official duties of her office.
"All I've read are the news accounts that have been in the paper, but I think it's the duty of the attorney general whenever there are allegations of impropriety, to not just pretend they didn't happen. If you hear of allegations of serious wrongdoing then you have an obligation. That's part of your job," Warren Tolman told the News Service after a debate Thursday at Mount Ida College. Saying he didn't want to comment specifically on the Bump matter, he said, "You have to look at any allegations of impropriety that come to your attention."
Democrat Maura Healey, who is also seeking the office, spoke broadly during the debate about prosecuting public corruption, but declined to say whether she would investigate Bump if she were attorney general, saying, "I have no comment on that."
John Miller, the Republican candidate for attorney general, would have already launched an investigation, according to spokesman Rick Gorka, who said if Miller held the office he would not publicize his investigation. If Miller determined Bump gave information about audits to third parties he "would strongly consider a reference to a grand jury," Gorka said.
In a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination, former First Deputy Auditor Laura Marlin accused the auditor of distributing campaign paperwork, including signature collection sheets, out of her State House office. Marlin also claims Bump told her she should have contacted the political director of a major labor union from which she was seeking political support while the office prepared its audit of the troubled Department of Children and Families.
Bump has denied the allegations, which include the claim that she at first planned to meet with the political director of the Service Employees International Union Local 509 in her State House office and became angry after Marlin presented her with a memo explaining why political contact would have violated auditing policies aimed at keeping the office independent. Marlin claims she was fired in violation of the First Amendment and the state's Whistleblower Act.
The auditor declined to comment on any aspects of the case Thursday afternoon, telling the News Service, "I'm sticking by the statement I put out yesterday. This is completely without merit."
At an event in Boston Thursday, Attorney General Martha Coakley said she needed more information about the accusations before commenting. "I can't. I'm not - I don't have any information about it at this time," she said. Asked if the suit is something her office would investigate, Coakley said, "It is just news. We haven't seen that yet so I'm really not in a position to comment. We will, in time, but I'm not prepared to do it right now."
Separately, Coakley's office announced Thursday that it filed a complaint against the former president of Westfield State, alleging that he spent almost $100,000 on personal purchases and family vacations to Cuba. Evan Dobelle, who resigned as president in November 2013, allegedly made false statements that $39,000 in travel requests were for official university business and filed false claims for payment of personal expenses totaling at least $59,000.
The Massachusetts Republican Party announced Thursday it had filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission, with party executive director Rob Cunningham saying the allegations "demand inquiry."
The party also filed a public records request for emails from Bump and Marlin, Bump's schedule, and correspondence between the auditor's office and SEIU Local 509. Cunningham asked to be notified if the cost of producing the records exceeded $100 and further asked for a waiver of any fees because he said the information is "in the taxpayer's interest."
Bump will be represented by outside counsel, according to an official within the attorney general's office. Ordinarily the office represents state officials embroiled in litigation as part of the AG's regular duties. Marlin previously worked in the AG's office, which would have created complications, the official said.
The auditor, one of six elected statewide officers in state government, is tasked with weeding waste and fraud from state-funded agencies. Bump is one of only two of the six statewide officeholders who will appear on the November ballot as an incumbent this year. Her Republican opponent, Patricia Saint Aubin, said in a statement, "If the allegations are true, then that certainly falls under the criteria of being unethical and potentially criminal."
Speaking generally during the debate at the Newton college, Healey and Tolman both said they could be counted on to investigate public corruption, after Needham attorney Mark Zuroff asked, "What is your office going to do to help us have more confidence in government?"
"I am committed to investigating all reports of public corruption and prosecuting where the evidence leads," said Healey during the debate. She said, "What I've seen really upsets me," referring to "sham interviews" conducted during hiring in the probation department that recently led to racketeering convictions for three former managers.
"The people on Beacon Hill know my record," said Tolman. He said, "I'm tired of the citizens of Massachusetts having to pay what I refer to as the fraud tax. It's a fraud tax of people getting away with things."
Healey and Tolman have differing points of view on Coakley's prosecution of former Treasurer Tim Cahill for a series of State Lottery advertisements that ran during his independent run for governor in 2010. Prosecutors claimed Cahill used state resources to boost his electoral hopes, while Cahill said the ads were an effort to keep customer confidence in the Lottery. After a hung jury, Cahill and Coakley agreed he would pay a civil fine.
"I say now what I said then," said Tolman, continuing, "I didn't see the criminal intent to do advertisements without one's likeness, without one's name in them."
A former official within Coakley's attorney general office, Healey said she believes there was sufficient evidence to bring the case.
"I was not in the criminal bureau so I didn't have anything to do with that matter, but I believe that there is information and evidence there to move forward. The case got prosecuted appropriately and it was what it was," Healey told the News Service.
The investigation and prosecution of public figures can create tensions and hard feelings between supporters of the current or former officeholders and, in the case of the state attorney general, the elected official in charge of the prosecutions.
Both Tolman and Healey voiced general support for the conviction federal prosecutors recently secured against three former probation officials for rigging hiring in the department, and said their own hires in the AG's office would be merit-based.
On the debate stage, Healey, a Charlestown Democrat in her first run for office, touted what she said was a degree of removal from the political establishment, saying, "I come to this with independence, no longstanding social ties or establishment ties."
"I spent eight years on Beacon Hill. I have a record. I've stood up time and again against the types of practices you're talking about," said Tolman, a Watertown Democrat and former state senator who has run for governor and lieutenant governor.
Tolman touted his support from Scott Harshbarger, a former attorney general who made public stands against public corruption and led the Democrats' gubernatorial ticket in 1998 when Tolman was the nominee for lieutenant governor. Tolman said he never voted for William Bulger, the controversial longtime Senate president, and said, "When they tried to gut the Ethics Commission, I was the person who stood up and stopped that from happening."
"Those were not easy things to do, to stand up to the culture on Beacon Hill, but I did it time and again," Tolman said.
The Mount Ida debate was sponsored by the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce, the Newton Tab and Needham Times.