In a standoff with the state ethics commission, state senator and gubernatorial candidate Dan Wolf is publicly disputing a commission opinion that his role as owner of Cape Air is a conflict of interest. The ethics commission is standing behind its opinion and strongly refuted a statement posted by Senator Wolf online this week.
Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, represents the Cape and Islands in the state senate. He founded Cape Air 25 years ago and now has a 23 per cent stake in the company.
In a statement posted online Wednesday, Mr. Wolf said his office contacted the state ethics commission this spring “out of an abundance of caution” to see if there would be any conflict between his role with Cape Air and serving as governor. He said an initial discussion indicated there should not be a conflict, the same thing he had heard when he asked for an informal opinion when he ran for the state senate in 2010.
“Unfortunately I was informed by the commission on Friday afternoon, August 2, that in their opinion the fact that Cape Air flies in and out of Logan, with agreements with Massport to do so, creates a conflict that can only be fixed either by Cape Air no longer serving Logan Airport — which would destroy the company — or by me completely divesting all interest in a company I spent 25 years building from the ground up,” the statement said. “In the commission’s opinion, short of taking one of these drastic steps, I could not serve as governor and also would have to resign as state senator," he said in the statement.
Mr. Wolf said the Cape Air agreements with Massport date back to 2002 and are automatically renewed. The fees are not negotiated, he said, but are set per federal regulations and apply to all airlines that fly in and out of Logan Airport.
“This opinion would prevent any successful businessperson who may have even tangential business interaction with the state from entering public life,” the statement said. “I disagree with this opinion and will be working to rectify what I believe to be an unfortunate conclusion based on a flawed process."
In a statement issued Thursday, the ethics commission stood called Mr. Wolf's statement inaccurate.
The statement said section seven of the state’s conflict of interest law prohibits state employees from having a financial interest in a state contract. Mr. Wolf’s options, the commission said, were to fully divest from the company, discontinue any contracts with Massport, or resign as state senator.
“In his dealings with the commission, Senator Wolf was never led to believe that no conflict existed; in fact, he was advised that he likely had a substantial problem under the conflict law, and that he would be given specific advice after he provided the Massport contracts,” the statement said.
In November 2010 the commission’s general counsel provided oral advice on conflict of interest law and sent an email advising one of Mr. Wolf’s aides to check whether Cape Air had any contracts with the state, the statement read. “Senator Wolf did not follow up on that advice, nor did he inform the Commission of Cape Air’s contracts with Massport.”
“The Section 7 exemption for legislators is particularly narrow,” Karen L. Nober, the commission’s executive director said in the statement.
“For a legislator to avail himself of that exemption, the contract in question must be competitively bid and the legislator’s ownership interest, including the interests of his immediate family, must be less than 10 per cent. The commission most recently opined on this issue in 2011, advising a newly-elected state legislator that his family business could no longer contract with the state, even though his family had contracted with the state agency for 30 years. While we understand that this situation creates difficult choices for Senator Wolf, there is no basis for the commission to give him special or different treatment.”