Boston, March 28, 2016 – Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA) has filed a Complaint with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission against nine State Senators for accepting a December trip to Israel paid for by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC). The Complaint contends that the Senators violated the state Conflict of Interest law (COI) by accepting payment from JCRC at the same time that they were acting on Israel-related legislation lobbied for by JCRC. The trip to Israel was announced in October, only three weeks after the Senate passed a resolution, promoted by JCRC, opposing boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. “On issues of such high public interest and controversy as BDS,” said Susan Nicholson of MAPA, “money should not be allowed to corrupt the political process.”
The nine Senators named in the Complaint are Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (Amherst) and Senators Ben Downing (Pittsfield), Anne Gobi (Spencer), John Keenan (Quincy), Barbara L’Italien (Andover), Karen Spilka (Ashland), Michael Barrett (Lexington), Eileen Donoghue (Lowell), Richard Ross (Wrentham). (A tenth Senator, Senator Dan Wolf, paid his own way.)
The Complaint also questions the Commission’s regulatory exemption for travel, which appears to allow legislators to place themselves in conflicted situations so long as they believe their travel serves a greater public purpose. “We believe it is unreasonable for Senators to make their own determination that their travel is of overriding benefit to the citizens of Massachusetts,” said MAPA Board member Eva Moseley, “and hope our Complaint encourages the Ethics Commission to scrutinize this exemption far more carefully.”
The COI stipulates that legislators may accept gifts valued at no more than $50; the travel exemption, however, allows individuals, or groups such as JCRC, to provide unlimited travel expenses, in this case amounting to more than $4000 per Senator. Traveling legislators or public officials themselves certify that their travel is of benefit to the people of Massachusetts; the emphasis of the December 2015 trip was said to be on trade and economic activity, but the itinerary shows that only one out of ten days was devoted to activities that could be relevant to enhancement of the Commonwealth’s economy.
As for enlightenment about the long-term, complex conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the trip, again according to the itinerary, provided substantial time only for travel in Israel and contact with Israeli officials and citizens. “They should go on another ten-day trip to the West Bank and Gaza to see those places and hear other points of view,” said MAPA Board member Jeff Klein, “though it’s not clear who would pay for that.”
Massachusetts Peace Action joined with the Boston Alliance for Water Justice (now the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine), Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston, and other organizations on November 24th to turn in petition signatures and meet with State Senators warning them of the conflict of interest and asking them not to go on the trip.
The complaint and its 16 exhibits are downloadable below. (We’ve noticed that Internet Explorer may have trouble displaying some of the attachments; try Chrome, Firefox or Safari if this happens to you)