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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Metro | Region
Lobbyists reward Finneran for clout

Speaker says donations do not sway legislation

By David Armstrong, Globe Staff, 07/20/98

nside the spacious Milton home of lobbyist Terry McDermott last month, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran rubbed elbows with BankBoston representatives who were attending a fund-raiser for the legislative leader.

Maintaining a good relationship with the speaker is important to bank officials, who have been fighting a bill that would ban surcharges on ATM transactions.

Finneran has refused to let the House vote on the bill. He has said the banking industry, not the Legislature, should resolve the surcharge issue.

It is a position that pleases BankBoston officials.

The intimate Milton fund-raiser, which cost $100 to attend, was nothing new for Finneran, who has raised tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists and special interest groups trying to influence legislation on Beacon Hill.

Last year, nearly 100 lobbyists contributed $19,250 to his campaign committee, even though the Mattapan Democrat traditionally faces little or no opposition for his seat. He is unopposed this year.

Executives in the construction, real estate, banking, insurance, and health care fields contributed a combined $69,375 to Finneran last year.

At the same time, only two of the 744 contributions of $100 or more to the speaker came from residents in his hometown, the Mattapan section of Boston. In total last year, Finneran raised $174,383.

Finneran recently has been criticized for preventing the House from voting on several high-profile bills, including the ATM measure and a proposal regulating health maintenance organizations.

A review of contributions to Finneran indicates that groups opposing and supporting many of those bills have contributed heartily to his campaign - a pattern that government watchdog groups say is troubling.

''Unfortunately, we have a system where the legislators making these decisions are also taking big money contributions from the lobbyists, PACs, and executives representing these same industries,'' said George Pillsbury, director of the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project, a nonpartisan research group that investigates the impact of money in elections. ''It certainly leaves voters questioning just whose interests are being represented.''

Finneran acknowledged receiving strong support from many of the people and businesses with interest in bills before the House. But he said that whether or not someone gives to his campaign is irrelevant to his view on a particular issue.

''You have to be strong and wise enough to resist making decisions based upon the fact you have this new group of people who have become supporters,'' he said. ''I don't pretend they give out of affection. I hope they give out of respect. There is no reason to suggest they give out of fear.''

Finneran targets various interest groups for fund-raising. He has held small meetings with representatives of certain industries who pay as much as $250 a person to hear him talk about legislative issues.

The speaker also holds an annual fund-raiser at Anthony's Pier 4 in Boston, mailing invitations to lobbyists with two $100 tickets inside.

Finneran said he finds fund-raising to be a necessary but unpleasant reality of political life. He said the money he raises today may provide the foundation for a future run for statewide office.

''I hate fund-raising,'' he said. ''I enjoy meeting people and listening to the pros and cons of issues, but I don't enjoy asking people for money.''

The debate over the ATM surcharge bill, which is viewed as a pro-consumer measure and is supported by smaller banks, found the region's largest banks vehemently opposed to the proposal.

The Senate approved the measure last year by a 38-0 vote. Last week, Finneran said he may allow the bill to come up for a vote before the legislative session ends July 31.

A leading opponent of the measure, BankBoston, has been well-represented at Finneran fund-raising events. The company also hired McDermott's lobbying firm to represent it on Beacon Hill. McDermott and Finneran are childhood friends.

Last year, BankBoston chairman Chad Gifford, in-house lobbyist Jeffrey Graham, and Ira Jackson, executive vice president, all donated to Finneran's campaign.

Jackson also attended the fund-raiser last month at McDermott's home.

The bank is not making an organized effort to support or influence Finneran, Jackson said in an interview, and many of the bank officials would support the speaker even if his view on the ATM bill was different. ''Anyone who thinks Tom Finneran is affected by whether or not you attended a campaign event for him is insane,'' Jackson said.

McDermott, a BankBoston lobbyist, said he has not discussed the ATM bill with Finneran. ''I don't know if I ever talked to Tommy about a client,'' he said. ''We don't usually have to. We work through the legislative process.''

Lobbyists for Fleet Bank, which also opposes the ATM bill, also contributed to Finneran's campaign, donating a collective $1,200 last year. Representatives of smaller banks that support the bill gave $1,000.

Finneran said he has discussed the ATM issue briefly with Gifford and Jackson, but that his opposition to the bill is philosophical and not based on any relationship with bank officials. In addition, he said, BankBoston leaders have been disappointed with his opposition to a new stadium for the New England Patriots.

The ATM debate is not the only one with links to Finneran's campaign fund.

One of the most hotly debated issues last year was a bill promoted by optometrists to allow them the right to treat simple eye diseases and dispense some drugs - tasks that by law only ophthalmologists could perform.

Optometrists had been unsuccessful in winning approval of the bill in years past.

Last year, however, Finneran said in an interview that something was different.

''It's a perennial battle, our Hatfields and McCoys,'' he said. ''But I think this year, the stars are finally in alignment for the optometrists.''

He was right - the bill was approved by the legislature and signed into law by Acting Governor Paul Cellucci.

Campaign finance records from last year show the optometrists were active in supporting Finneran, collectively contributing $4,500. Five members of the lobbying firm representing the optometrists - Hickey Associates - gave a collective $700 to the speaker last year. Ophthalmologists and their lobbying firm, meanwhile, contributed $850.

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 07/20/98.
© Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.

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