Ethics Commission Issues “Letter” to Secretary of the Commonwealth Galvin
The State Ethics Commission issued a Public Education Letter today to Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin to resolve allegations that he violated the conflict of interest law. According to the letter, Secretary Galvin, a candidate for re-election in 2018, benefited politically from early voting signs that prominently featured his name and an Information for Voters booklet that provided him with free positive publicity, which were created and distributed by his office.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth is Massachusetts’ chief election official.
Prior to general state elections, the Secretary’s office is required to publish an Information for Voters booklet informing voters about statewide ballot questions, which is mailed to all residential addresses in Massachusetts.
According to the letter, the Information for Voters booklet for 2018 included as extra content descriptions of instances when the Securities Division of the Secretary’s office assisted victims of investment fraud, referring repeatedly to “Secretary Galvin’s office.”
This repeated use of his name provided Secretary Galvin with a political benefit: free positive publicity for him during his reelection campaign, as it highlighted and in effect personally credited him with specific achievements of the Securities Division, according to the letter.
According to the letter, Secretary Galvin’s Office also distributed 1,000 early voting signs to election officials throughout the Commonwealth. Secretary Galvin’s name was prominently featured on the signs giving them the appearance and likely effect of campaign signs for his re-election, the letter states.
The conflict of interest law prohibits public employees from using their official positions to obtain valuable benefits that are not properly available to them. According to the letter, omitting or reducing the prominence of Secretary Galvin’s name on the early voting signs and omitting the repeated use of his name in the Information for Voters booklet would not have lessened the usefulness of the signs and the booklet to the public. Therefore, the benefits to Secretary Galvin from the prominent inclusion of his name on the early voting signs and the free positive publicity in the Information for Voters booklet were unwarranted, and the Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Secretary Galvin violated the conflict of interest law by using his official position to secure them.
The Commission chose to resolve this matter through a Public Education Letter, rather than through adjudicatory proceedings, because the type of actions described in the letter have not been the subject of a Commission decision, formal opinion, or advisory and because the Commission determined the public interest would be best served by publicly explaining how the conflict of interest law applies to Secretary Galvin’s alleged actions. The Commission expects that as a result of this letter Secretary Galvin and other public employees will have a clearer understanding of how to comply with the conflict of interest law in connection with elections, and that Secretary Galvin’s receipt of this letter will be sufficient to ensure his future compliance with the law. Secretary Galvin, who cooperated fully with the Commission’s investigation, agreed to the issuance of the Public Education Letter and chose not to exercise his right to a hearing.
The State Ethics Commission is charged with civilly enforcing the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A. The Commission encourages public employees to contact the Commission’s Legal Division at 617-371-9500 for free advice if they have any questions regarding how the conflict of interest law may apply to them.