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The state Ethics Commission should take a second look at an opinion that could force state Sen. Dan Wolf to end his campaign for governor and leave the Legislature, the head of a government watchdog group said Wednesday.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said that while her group supports tough ethics laws and holding government officials accountable, Wolf's case may warrant an exemption.
Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, is a founder of Cape Air and owns a 23 percent stake in the Hyannis-based regional airline. The commission told Wolf in an opinion this month that he was in violation of state ethics law because Cape Air has contracts with Logan Airport, which is operated by the Massachusetts Port Authority.
Wolf suspended his gubernatorial campaign last week and said he would quit the Senate on Thursday if the decision wasn't reversed.
"We want the ethics commission to be very strong, but we don't want it to be overly broad, either," said Wilmot, whose group advocates for transparency in government and has participated in the crafting of past state ethics laws.
In the Wolf case, Wilmot said the commission could use its existing authority to make an exception. She said airlines are regulated by the federal government, not the state, and the Legislature has no significant role in regulating or funding Massport.
"The potential for a conflict of interest is really minimal," said Wilmot.
Wolf maintains that Cape Air pays the same fixed fees to use Logan as other carriers, so his position as a legislator or state official offers his company no advantage over competitors.
David Giannotti, an Ethics Commission spokesman, said Monday the agency would have no further comment. The commission has strongly disputed Wolf's claim that the panel had previously led him to believe this his ownership stake in Cape Air would not be a conflict.
The opinion issued by the commission was advisory and differed from an enforcement action that could produce fines or other penalties. Enforcement would be a possibility in the future if Wolf did not follow the commission's advice.
Many of Wolf's Senate colleagues have rushed to his defense.
"This decision by the ethics commission is really quite far reaching and really troubling," said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat and the majority leader of the Senate.
Rosenberg, who also chairs a Senate panel on ethics, said the Legislature needs people with successful business backgrounds and worried that Wolf's departure could discourage others like him from running for office.
Rosenberg also said he hoped the commission would take a second look at the matter.
Another Democratic candidate for governor, Don Berwick, released a statement Friday saying Massachusetts would lose a "fine legislator and a superb candidate" if Wolf left the Senate and ended his campaign.
A spokesman for Wolf, who represents Cape Cod and the islands, said the lawmaker planned no further comment Monday.
This article was originally published on August 26, 2013.
This program aired on August 26, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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