For Immediate Release - May 11, 2017

Ethics Commission Issues Public Education Letter to Southern Essex District Registrar of Deeds John O’Brien

Registrar O’Brien provided confidential home addresses of Registry employees to his campaign committee, which sent fundraising solicitations to the employees

The State Ethics Commission issued a Public Education Letter to Southern Essex District Registrar of Deeds John O’Brien to resolve allegations that Mr. O’Brien violated the conflict of interest law.  According to the letter, signed by Executive Director David Wilson, Mr. O’Brien used his position as Registrar to obtain the home addresses of Registry employees for his campaign committee mailing list, disclosed the addresses to his campaign committee, and, through his campaign committee, solicited campaign donations from Registry employees. 

According to the letter, between 2011 and 2016, Mr. O’Brien obtained home addresses of Registry employees, which are confidential, from Registry personnel records and from resumes provided by job applicants, and gave the addresses to his campaign committee.  In 2011, Mr. O’Brien, through his campaign committee, invited Registry employees to a $100 per person fundraising event at a local pizza shop.  In 2016, the campaign committee mailed a fundraising solicitation, as well as a follow up solicitation to those who did not respond, to nearly all Registry employees.

The Commission determined that there was reasonable cause to believe Mr. O’Brien violated the conflict of interest law.  The Commission further determined that this matter should be resolved with a Public Education Letter to Mr. O’Brien, rather than through adjudicatory proceedings, in the interest of educating public employees about the requirements of the conflict of interest law.  Mr. O’Brien agreed to the issuance of the letter and chose not to exercise his right to a hearing.  Public officials should understand that they may not knowingly or with reason to know send campaign fundraising solicitations to employees under their official responsibility, use public resources to benefit their campaign efforts, or share confidential information maintained by public agencies for agency operational purposes with campaign committees.

The State Ethics Commission is charged with enforcing the conflict of interest law which prohibits public employees from using their offices or positions for personal purposes.  When the Commission’s five members vote to find that there is reasonable cause to believe that a public employee violated the law, it may further vote to issue a public education letter rather than to begin adjudicatory proceedings against the employee.  The Commission issues a public education letter when it believes such a letter would educate other public employees in similar positions and circumstances, so that they will have a clearer understanding of the conflict of interest law and how to comply with it.  

The Commission encourages public employees to contact the Commission’s Legal Division at 617-963-9500 for free advice if they have any questions regarding how the conflict of interest law may apply to them.

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     O'Brien, John L., Jr. Public Education Letter