State rep: Law firm audit of House spending 'not good enough'

Richard Conn and Michael Morton

State Rep. Thomas Stanley is not placated by reports that House Speaker Robert DeLeo will appoint an independent attorney to review House spending.

Stanley, D-Waltham, was one of four lawmakers who halted House business Monday and Tuesday to request members authorize the governor appoint an outside firm to produce an itemized report of the House budget. The request followed a published report that the House had paid attorneys $378,000 in taxpayer money to represent the speaker's office in the federal corruption investigation of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi.

Stanley said the audit would not be truly independent if DeLeo picks who performs it.

"It's not good enough for me," Stanley said. "It's not independent if another law firm is being appointed by the speaker."

Stanley and state reps. Lida Harkins, D-Needham, Matt Patrick, D-Falmouth, and Bill Greene, D-Billerica, have been calling for an in-depth review and have succeeded in bringing House business to a halt this week.

DeLeo allies have accused the group of lawmakers of holding up important legislation, including the passage of a bill that would provide $42 million in assistance for the homeless.

Stanley bristled at that assertion and said taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent.

"It's outrageous for them to frame it that way," he said.

Stanley said that if the speaker's office only produced "basic financial information" there would no need for legislators to request the audit.

Other area lawmakers Tuesday joined the call for a review, if not an outright audit, of legal expenses tied to the DiMasi case.

"The real issue is public confidence," said state Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston. It's important for people to know "funds are being spent appropriately and we know where they're going and what they're going to."

DiMasi has been accused in a bid-rigging scheme, to which he has pleaded not guilty. In May, the House received a subpoena for documents, with a request, but not a requirement, from the U.S. attorney's office asking that details be kept confidential so as not to jeopardize the probe.

State Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, said he wants his colleagues to leave politics out of the debate. The legal expenses, he said, were tied to evaluating the information requested and released for the probe, rather than defending individual legislators or the House itself.

"The real question here is about whether the fees are all fair and reasonable," he said, adding that the House should also look at whether the federal request has been inappropriately burdensome. "Because that's a lot of money to spend on responses to discovery."

Rather than an outside audit, Fernandes is asking for an internal review for now, wary of compromising the investigating but seeking clear facts for the public.

"I think there's a balance that needs to be struck," he said, adding that DeLeo was moving in that direction. "I'm confident we'll have all that information within a short period of time."

From the other side of the aisle, state Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury, said answers are also warranted on how the money is being spent and whether the House is required to spend it. Until then, she said, the expenses recall the cloud left by DiMasi's resignation and indictment.

"This funding issue sort of resurrects that issue," she said.