Candidates For Governor Joust With Primary Looming

Steve Grossman sharpened his attack Monday against fellow Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Martha Coakley over her settlement of a case involving a prominent lobbyist.

Grossman said Coakley has shown "a pattern of bad judgment" as attorney general, including her recent decision to agree to a civil settlement with lobbyist John Brennan, a former state lawmaker.

From left, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donald Berwick, Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman debate at WBUR in June. ( WBUR host Bob Oakes moderates. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
From left, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donald Berwick, Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman debate at WBUR in June. WBUR host Bob Oakes moderates. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Coakley's office alleged Brennan's firm - the Brennan Group - collected $370,000 in improper lobbying fees from the Franciscan Hospital for Children. Under the settlement, the Brennan Group didn't admit guilt, but repaid Franciscan $100,000.

Grossman said during a Boston Herald debate that Coakley should have recused herself from the case because she has accepted donations from Brennan and employees of the Brennan Group in past campaigns.

Between 2006 and 2008, Coakley received a total of $1,000 in campaign donations from Brennan group lobbyists including John Brennan, according to campaign finance documents filed with the state Office and Campaign and Political Finance.

"Here's a well-connected lobbyist who raised money for you who was allowed to walk laughing all the way to the bank," said Grossman, the state treasurer.

Coakley defended her handling of the case, saying she struck the best deal she could given the state's statute of limitations and was able to win back $100,000 for the hospital.

"We did a thorough investigation," Coakley said during the online debate. "We did what we always do and say how are we going to get the best result for the commonwealth?"

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat whose office regulates lobbying, said last week that he plans to launch his own inquiry.

Coakley said she welcomes the action by Galvin and said her office's investigation could help his probe.

"We always knew that was going to happen," he said. "That's completely appropriate."

The Democratic candidates also split on the question of casinos - particularly the suggestion by Republican candidate Charlie Baker that he would consider filing legislation to allow a single casino in Springfield if voters approve a statewide ballot question that would repeal Massachusetts 2011 casino law.

That law allows the state to license up to three casinos and a single slots parlor.

Donald Berwick (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Donald Berwick (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A third Democratic candidate, Don Berwick, supports the repeal effort, arguing that casinos contribute to a slew of social ills while harming local businesses.

"I'm just saying to the people of Springfield, please, please look at the information, don't let the wool be pulled over your eyes by big money lobbyists," Berwick said.

Grossman said he wouldn't file or support legislation to allow a Springfield casino if the casino law repeal effort is successful in November, but Coakley didn't rule out the idea.

"I think we could revisit if Springfield really wants to do it and that vote is solid," she said. "I do ultimately trust people to make these decisions."

Also Monday, the two Republican candidates, Charlie Baker and Mark Fisher, participated in an online debate sponsored by the Boston Globe.

Baker and the tea party-affiliated Fisher agreed on few topics during the debate - from how to re-energize the state Republican Party to the new state law addressing protests outside abortion clinics.

The two also split when asked to name a current politician who is also a role model, though both picked fellow Republicans.

Fisher picked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has battled unions, while Baker, who seemed initially stumped, named Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

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