Local lawmakers defend ‘other’ jobs

Written by Administrator
 | Tuesday, 08 September 2009 19:13

In the Massachusetts legislature, lawmakers are paid what many would consider full-time wages ––  $61,439.76 for the 2009-2010 legislative year, according to Beacon Hill Roll Call –– yet senators and representatives are not prevented from having jobs away from Beacon Hill. In fact, some Duxbury legislators earn six-figure salaries in their “other” jobs.

Some say outside work can detract from time spent on state business. Others say that having a career away from Beacon Hill can provide perspective. Duxbury’s lawmakers were split on the issue.

Representative Tom Calter, whose district includes Duxbury, said he believes in legislators having careers away from Beacon Hill –– as long as it does not interfere with serving their constituents.

“If one is privileged to be a legislator it should be their top priority,” he said. “Having said that, I believe that outside experience is critical to making well-informed decisions on policy.”

Calter has a business he runs out of his Kingston home, RKP Capital Services LLC, which he described as  “business consulting, executive coaching, mergers and acquisitions.” According to a statement of financial interest filed with the Massachusetts Ethics Commission, he reported over $100,000 of income as the CEO of RKP in 2007 and 2008. Lawmakers are only required to report ranges, not actual salaries, on the forms.

In 2008, Calter also put in his disclosure form that he was president of Sagamore Plumbing & Heating Inc., which he described as part of the consulting business and something that wasn’t permanent.

“It’s a role I’ll play for a year, maybe part time,” he said. The disclosure forms from the Ethic Commission list his income from this position as over $100,000, and Calter confirmed that this was a separate income from the RKP position.

He pointed out that although he has outside income, he has never missed a vote during his tenure.

“All other career priorities must come second,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate and prudent for legislators to work outside of the legislature, however, that should never be an excuse for missing votes on the house floor.”

He said that when accepting work for RKP, he stresses to his clients that his legislative priorities will come first.

Duxbury’s other state representative, Daniel Webster, is a practicing attorney.  Webster’s gross outside income was $100,000 or more in 2007, and between $60,000-$100,000 in 2008, according to the Ethics Commission documents. Webster said that during his first campaign in 2003, he was upfront about the fact he would continue to practice law while serving in the legislature.

He believes representatives and senators with outside careers bring a valuable perspective to lawmaking.

“It’s important to have professionals serving in the legislature,” he said. “They bring different life experiences ... Far too often when we enact public policy, it’s tainted by the perspective of lawmakers who don’t work in the private sector.”

Webster’s business, Webster and Webster, is located in Pembroke. He owns 50 percent of the business, according to the disclosure form. Legislators are also required to disclose any gifts or reimbursements they receive, or any securities or investments they have.

Webster said that being an attorney and owning his own business allows him to work around his time on Beacon Hill.

“When we’re scheduled to be in session ... because I have my own business, I’m able to adjust my schedule appropriately,” he said.

He believes his outside income does not affect his ability to serve the taxpayers of his district.

“My record stands for itself ... I’m in my seventh year in the legislature. My outside employment has never affected my service to the residents of the Sixth Plymouth District.”

Last year, Webster missed 41 of 362 votes, according to the Beacon Hill Roll Call service, an attendance rate of 88.7 percent. The organization labeled him with the fourth worst voting record in the legislature. At the time, Webster said the missed votes were due to a family emergency (he missed 28 of the 41 votes over two days in July) and pointed out that he had never missed a vote before 2008. He also said he missed some of the other votes due to traffic, as he commutes to Boston from Pembroke.

State Senator Robert Hedlund, for his part, believes part-time citizen legislators work better than the full-time system currently used in Massachusetts. He pointed to New Hampshire, where legislators are paid a small stipend of $200 rather than a salary.

“You have some attorneys that make outside income, you have to question how much time they’re committing,” he said.

He said he would like to see more small business owners represented in the halls of the Statehouse.

“What we have up here are predominately lawyers,” he said. “There’s just no diversity.”

Hedlund has some outside income as a radio talk show host. He has been a fill in host for Boston radio station WRKO, from which he reported between $5,000-10,000 in 2007 and from $1,000-5,000 in 2008. He also made between $1,000-5,000 each year as a consultant to Beneco, Inc., a company based in Scottsdale Arizona. He also owned 100 percent of the business HWO, LLC, based out of his Weymouth home.

Hedlund pointed out as one of the few Republicans in the Senate, he has more committee responsibilities than his Democratic colleagues.

“We’re spread thinner,” he said.

Hedlund also gets a leadership stipend of $15,000 on top of his legislative salary for being a minority whip. In fact, since there are only five Republican members of the Senate, they all receive some sort of stipend –– for example, Senate minority leader Richard Tisei gets $22,500 extra.

Hedlund said that outside of the chambers, where legislators are recorded in roll call votes, there really isn’t a rule for how much time lawmakers spend in their Beacon Hill offices.

“It’s how visible and active you choose to be ... it’s not really a uniform standard.”

Pam Wilmot of the watchdog group Common Cause Massachusetts said her organization does not have an issue with legislators having outside sources of income.

“While working as a legislator can be time consuming, it is not officially ‘full time,’” she wrote in an e-mail to the Clipper. “Outside jobs have the benefit of providing a broader perspective and additional expertise.  On the other hand, other jobs also can be a source of conflicts of interest.”

She pointed out that the U.S. Congress does not allow outside income –– although the base pay is much higher than state legislators.