What the Brian Joyce Saga Says about Government Transparency in Massachusetts

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One state senator’s dirty laundry may be catching up with him. Pioneer Institute previously covered the troubles facing former Senate Assistant Majority Leader Brian Joyce, after he faced scrutiny over allegedly using the status of his office to receive free dry cleaning services and designer sunglasses, among other possible ethical lapses. Last week, his Canton law office was raided by the FBI and IRS as part of a criminal investigation.

Things are not looking good for the senator from the Norfolk, Bristol, & Plymouth district.

Senator Joyce’s colleagues, led by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, are rightfully going to let the investigation run its course before taking any action against Joyce. No charges have been filed against him.

Criminal investigation aside, the situation points to a larger problem. The Massachusetts legislature is currently exempt from public records law, which means the public is left in the dark when it comes to many of the dealings of their elected officials.

If the legislators’ day-to-day state activities were made more widely known by subjecting the legislature to open meeting and public records law, members would be held more accountable for their actions, which would strengthen public trust.

Sadly, Massachusetts transparency laws are so weak that the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press ranked our state near rock bottom nationwide.

We’re not saying that transparency laws should intrude upon public officials’ personal lives, impact where they shop or where they get their clothes cleaned, but transparency while under the Golden Dome sets the tone for actions outside of the State House.

In Pioneer’s Agenda for Leadership, James Stergios and Mary Connaughton advocate for meaningful reforms to Massachusetts public records law. They propose “An Act to Provide Legislative Transparency,” which would require that all legislative committee meetings be broadcast live over the internet, and that all legislators provide online links to their most recently filed reports with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Stergios and Connaughton have also proposed that the existing law be amended to make text messages and email correspondence using devices paid for with state funds available to all citizens.

Improved open meeting and public records laws may not prevent the types of activities Senator Brian Joyce may have been involved in, but they would certainly strengthen public engagement with elected officials and the accountability that follows.

Government is supposed to be of, for and by the people. That can’t happen if the people are barred from knowing what their elected officials are doing.

Michael Weiner is a student at Northeastern University studying International Affairs.  He is working as a Research and Programs Assistant at Pioneer Institute through the Northeastern Co-op program.  Find Michael on Twitter at: @michaelgweiner