A tricky shift for Delahunt
When William Delahunt retired from Congress last year — wrapping up a nearly 40-year political career — he made it clear that he planned to remain in public life, acting as a consultant on matters he held dear.
It seems there was one cause in particular that was close to his heart: a casino for the Mashpee Wampanoags, who have sought for years to enter the gambling business in Southeastern Massachusetts or on Cape Cod.
And in yet another example of the revolving-door syndrome that plagues government at all levels, Delahunt announced last week that he is now lobbying for the Wampanoags. From constituents to clients.
In a statement, Delahunt gave his new gig the most noble spin possible, declaring that treating the Mashpee Wampanoags “with respect and helping them achieve self-sufficiency is just the right thing to do.’’
There are rules governing how long former lawmakers must wait before lobbying, but they are narrow. Delahunt can’t lobby Congress for one year, but he can lobby his heart out on Beacon Hill. He can also lobby federal agencies.
It’s hard to blame the Wampanoags for looking for some muscle behind their cause. Although the tribe won federal recognition as a sovereign nation in 2007, it has struggled to get traction in the casino debate on Beacon Hill — but not for lack of trying. The tribe has spent more than $250,000 on lobbyists in the past two years alone, state records show.
What happens next in the gambling debate is anybody’s guess. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Governor Deval Patrick remain at odds on the issue of slot machines, the sticking point at the end of last session. That is just one of the issues that will likely have to be resolved, and although DeLeo said last week he would like to see the issue addressed soon, it’s easy to envision another year of paralysis.
That Delahunt would so quickly find himself enmeshed in controversy is surprising. After nearly 40 years in office, part of it as Norfolk district attorney, surely he knew that instantly entering the lobbying business would fail the smell test of many observers.
He might turn out to be a perfect lobbyist for the tribe. He has deep roots in Southeastern Massachusetts — home, lest we forget, of Senate President Therese Murray. He will certainly have access to anyone on Beacon Hill. And if the tribe needs help in Washington, well, he knows his way around there, too.
But all that access is just the problem. Lobbyists wield far too much power as it is, and to allow former lawmakers to buttonhole their recent colleagues for favors only makes a shady practice worse. Delahunt may be sincere in his belief that the Wampanoags have been treated shabbily. But hiring a better-connected lobbyist to solve the problem only feeds the cynicism so many already feel about Beacon Hill, the sense that legislative success ultimately rests on whom you know.
Of course, in turning from governing to lobbying, Delahunt is traveling a well-trodden path. Many retiring congressmen don’t even bother moving back home because Washington is the center of the lobbying universe. Although moves like this may register as business-as-usual in the Capitol, it only underscores the fact that even modest efforts to rein in influence peddling are ineffective.
If Massachusetts is going to get casinos, which I consider inevitable, the Wampanoags have as strong a moral claim to them as any gambling company. But it’s too bad that their appeals to history and victimization did not prove persuasive. Instead, they brought in the big guns. It’s the American way.
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.