State Auditor Diana DiZoglio is about to make good on her campaign promise to throw open the doors of the Legislature and let the sun shine in — its long-maintained exemption from public records law notwithstanding.
And as long as she follows the money — taxpayers’ money, let’s not forget — she will be waging a battle well worth waging and one the Legislature with its long-established lack of transparency has brought on itself. But one cautionary note: An intrusion into the inner policy workings of the House and Senate, as attractive a target as that may be, runs the risk of bumping up against the Massachusetts Constitution and its separation of powers clause.
“My hope is that the Legislature will fully cooperate,” DiZoglio said in an interview with the editorial board. “Certainly we hope that the Senate and House both come to understand that an audit is the appropriate way to increase accountability. And performance audits are a good way to make sure government programs are operating efficiently.”
She also pointed out that the last time the Legislature was the subject of a state audit was in 1922, when the state government was much smaller than it is today. Today, the Legislature is an approximately $87 million annual enterprise , one that could do with a little scrutiny.
DiZoglio, who spent three terms in the House and two in the Senate before running for the auditor’s post, has seen the Legislature from the inside — and not necessarily in a good way. Earlier in her career as a legislative aide she was made to sign a non disclosure agreement as part of a severance package aimed at putting to rest allegations of sexual misconduct and her subsequent harassment.
The experience made her a crusader against such agreements — especially those funded with taxpayer dollars. It also made her not the most popular of lawmakers among her colleagues on Beacon Hill.
But today, DiZoglio’s ambition goes well beyond exposing NDAs.
In letters sent to House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, DiZoglio warned her office’s audit “will include but not be limited to the review of access to budgetary, hiring, spending and procurement information.”
But she also gave notice that it would include “information regarding active and pending legislation, the process for appointing committees, the adoption and suspension of House and Senate rules and the policies and procedures of the House and Senate.”
And that’s where the auditor may be on trickier ground.
As Spilka was quick to point out in a statement issued by her office, “Under the Massachusetts Constitution and as the separation of powers clause dictates, the Senate is required to manage its own business and set its own rules.”
As the statement also noted, “Senate business is made public through journals, calendars and recordings of each session, while payroll and other financial information is publicly available on the Comptroller’s website .”
If the public is curious about how much the Legislature spends each month to service its copying machines it’s all there. Or to pay for the occasional law firm. That’s there too. But if DiZoglio thinks she can make the House and Senate operations more transparent than the comptroller’s somewhat-difficult-to-navigate website, well, she should have at it.
The auditor’s governing statute says the office can audit “accounts, programs, activities and functions” of “all departments, offices, commissions, institutions and activities of the commonwealth, including those of districts and authorities created by the general court.”
DiZoglio points out there is no exemption for the Legislature.
If lawmakers want to put to the test whether that mandate includes their operations, then DiZoglio will have a court fight on her hands. And if she sticks to issues of appropriate use of funds, of fairness in hiring and contracting, as she promised in her letters, she should be on solid ground — the Legislature’s protests notwithstanding.
DiZoglio said her office is consulting with the Government Accountability Office — which literally wrote the book on auditing procedures — “to insure this process is done correctly.”
But to attempt to get under the hood of legislative decision-making about its own rules, procedures, and appointments is to walk a fine line — a line that could invite a separation of powers challenge.
“In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.”
Ultimately DiZoglio can’t bend the legislative branch to her will. But she can and should work to expose any malfeasance or misfeasance and hope the voters will take it from there.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion .