Harshbarger, senior counsel at
Proskauer Rose LLP in Boston, recently sat on the Governor's Task
Force on Public Integrity, which issued a report in January calling
for a number of specific changes to stanch ethics violations by
improving oversight and enforcement. Officials need the tools to
investigate and enforce violations, he said, expressing "deep
disappointment" in a "culture" that tolerates ethical abuses.
"Democracy erodes when people lose
confidence that government is representing them," he said.
Gov. Deval Patrick appointed the
task force last fall amid high-profile investigations, including
the arrests of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Boston City
Councilor Chuck Turner. Former Massachusetts Speaker of the House
Sal DiMasi, who resigned in January, was indicted by a federal
grand jury on corruption charges in June.
"The shocking part is that we needed
to wait this long to give public officials the tools to do their
jobs," Harshbarger told the audience. "To hold public officials
accountable, you have to have the tools."
He said the state's Ethics
Commission needs to be strengthened, the attorney general needs
powers similar to those held by the U.S. attorney general, and
public officials need more power to investigate ethical violations
instead of always depending on the attorney general's office for
Harshbarger, who said he was proud
to have been a public servant, was also president and CEO of Common
Cause in Washington, D.C., a national nonprofit citizen's lobby and
government watchdog group from August 1999 to November 2002 after
he was defeated as the Democratic candidate for governor in
Harshbarger said that Patrick, who
he considers a friend, needs to take action. "It's time for the
governor to stand up and be counted. At some point, you have to
take a stand."
With the nation in an economic
crisis and elected officials spending billions of dollars in
stimulus money, the public needs to have faith in their integrity,
"Today, government matters more than it has ever mattered,"
Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger delivered
an impassioned call for ethics and lobbying reform during his
keynote speech at the Massachusetts Bar Association's Third Annual
Public Law Conference in Boston on June 10.