Days after Attorney General Andrea Campbell rebuffed her bid to pry open the Legislature’s books with a lawsuit, state Auditor Diana DiZoglio tells GBH News she’s not backing down.
DiZoglio, a former state lawmaker, campaigned for her current office on a promise to audit the Legislature. Top lawmakers refused to comply with her probe, calling it unconstitutional, and DiZoglio then requested Campbell’s support in bringing the matter to court.
Last week, Campbell effectively sided with the Legislature, telling DiZoglio in a 17-page letter that the AG’s office found the auditor “does not currently have the legal authority to audit the Legislature without the Legislature’s consent.”
“It was disappointing and discouraging,” DiZoglio told GBH News in an interview. “It was not devastating. We press on. We're taking this matter directly to the voters because we believe that our state government, which is frequently ranked as the least transparent legislature in the entire nation, should be subject to transparency.”
Campbell’s letter shut down the possibility of a lawsuit, saying that research found “that litigation on this question is not necessary or appropriate.” With that door closed, DiZoglio says her focus is now on a proposed 2024 ballot question that, if passed, would write it into state law that her office can audit the Legislature.
The process of putting a ballot question before voters is long and complex. To advance to the next stage, proponents have to collect almost 75,000 signatures from registered voters, and file those with local officials by Nov. 22 and with the state by Dec. 6.
DiZoglio said the campaign is “within striking distance” of the signature requirement, with more than 50,000 gathered so far.
“We're in a climate crisis, we are in a transportation crisis, in a mental health crisis, a housing crisis, an addiction crisis — the list goes on,” DiZoglio said. “We cannot continue to do the same things over and over again up on Beacon Hill and expect that we're going to get different results. That is the definition of insanity. So we are trying to change the status quo to make a positive difference for the lives of so many across Massachusetts.”
Voters so far appear to be with her, according to recent polling. In an October UMass Amherst/WCVB survey, 67% of respondents said they'd vote “yes” on a question that would "allow the state auditor to assess the performance of the state legislature and recommend ways to improve the state legislature." The question had support among a majority of Democrats (74%), Republicans (61%) and independents (57%).
Massachusetts’ state government is uniquely opaque, with the Legislature, governor’s office and judiciary all claiming exemptions from the public records law. The state’s open meeting law also does not apply to the Legislature, allowing lawmakers to negotiate behind closed doors.
DiZoglio had proposed a wide-ranging review of the House and Senate, seeking information on their hiring, spending, procurement and internal procedures around things like assigning lawmakers to committees.
Campbell, in her letter, said that while the auditor's office had in the past examined specific elements of the Legislature, she could not find "any prior example" of such a broad probe.
“I believe transparency is a cornerstone of good government, but that transparency must be achieved through methods that are consistent with the law,” Campbell said in a statement.
House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka have each said the legislative bodies they run make their finances and other operations public in a variety of ways, and that DiZoglio’s probe runs counter to the state Constitution. In a joint statement Friday, they said Campbell’s “decision has reinforced our long-held position that the Auditor does not have the statutory or constitutional authority to audit any other separate branch of government.”
In the letter, Campbell noted that the question of whether the state auditor’s office “can audit the Legislature over its objection is different from the question of whether [it] should be able to do so.”
Campbell’s office said the analysis focused on current law and should not be interpreted as a policy statement on the ballot question.
But the attorney general did write that, if the initiative passes, “we may need to consider whether, and the extent to which, constitutional limitations affect how the law would apply.”
Asked about Campbell raising the possibility that the Constitution might limit the scope of future audits if the ballot push ultimately succeeds, DiZoglio said, “We’re in this for the long haul.”
“I can only control my own actions. I cannot control the actions of others,” DiZoglio said. “So we all have decisions. The attorney general has made her decision. She has commented on issues that she's wanted to comment on. I will continue to fight the battle to get this on the ballot, and I will continue to fight for increased transparency up on Beacon Hill now and in the years to come."