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Brian McGrory

Fool disclosure

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / June 10, 2011

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Just for chuckles, I went back and looked at the financial disclosure forms that Sal DiMasi filed during one of his last years as speaker of the Massachusetts House. It was a good laugh, too, until it suddenly hit me that the joke is actually on us.

We’ve learned a lot about Sal during his excellent adventure in federal court, which may end with a verdict next week. We learned he was a nightmare with the almighty buck. You wouldn’t want him managing your kid’s lemonade stand, never mind having a decisive say in the $33 billion state budget.

We learned that he had more than $50,000 in credit-card debt at any given time. He had not one, not two, but three mortgages on his North End condominium, leaving him with little, if any, equity. His wife had another sizable mortgage on a suburban property.

All of this would be fine if he could afford it, but we learned that was nowhere near the case. He and his wife made roughly $165,000 a year. There are couples all across this great land, good, honest, hard-working people, who would think they hit the lottery with $165,000 a year. Those people wouldn’t be the DiMasis, who kept borrowing until they ran out of lenders.

And all of this is apart from the campaign account that Sal was pouring through, according to campaign finance reports. There are $845 monthly payments for a luxury SUV, and $1,200 dinners at No. 9 Park, $1,000 for a few — wink, wink — meetings at Ipswich Country Club, and $461 at Joe Tecce’s, all under the guise of fund-raising meetings in a year in which he didn’t have an opponent.

So back to financial disclosures, which are supposed to give the public insight into debts and holdings of their leaders. Just getting these records is an obnoxious task. The whole world lives online these days. Land records can be accessed from any computer, as can campaign records, golf scores, and flight times, — but not your legislators’ financial disclosures.

No, the barons of Beacon Hill have made it such that you need to present an ID to the State Ethics Commission to get a redacted copy of the forms. Typically, that means going to Beacon Hill, though I was told by an official with the commission that if I copied my driver’s license and faxed a request, they’d react immediately. They certainly did — by saying my license was too dark. I faxed it again and am still waiting for a response. If this is immediate, I’d hate to see them take their time.

If the Ethics Commission is of little help, fortunately the nice people of CommonWealth magazine have filled the void. They retrieve the documents from the state each year and post them on their website as a public service.

But looking at DiMasi’s filing, I’m not sure why they bother. A blank page would tell me more. DiMasi listed two mortgages on his 2008 filing, conveniently leaving out the third mortgage from Richard Vitale, his accountant-turned-fellow federal defendant. Neither mortgage lists an amount, just a big, fat “N/A’’ in the box where the number is supposed to be. Ends up, ethics rules say legislators don’t have to provide details on mortgages on primary homes. Credit card debt? Excluded in the rules written by the Legislature itself.

A column reader named John recently wrote with an idea so brilliant that if I claimed it as my own, you’d know otherwise. Our elected officials, John proposed, should be required to publicly reveal their credit scores. If their scores are awful, do we really want them managing our money? Won’t it tip off the possibility of sticky fingers?

DiMasi probably wouldn’t have qualified for a Sears charge in his last couple of years as speaker, but there he was, his grimy hands all over the budget, grabbing at cash that wasn’t rightfully his.

The question remains, a week from now, a year from now, is there anyone on Beacon Hill with the guts to clean up this mess?

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.