A Democrat from Hull said he has lodged a complaint with the State Ethics Commission against Sen. Robert Hedlund, arguing that the Weymouth Republican's successful push for an amendment to the Senate casino bill would personally benefit him because of his owership in a Braintree restaurant.
Hedlund strongly rebuked the allegation, saying in a statement Thursday that he has followed ethics regulations appropriately and calling the complaint "self-serving and frivolous." He also denied that the amendment would restore "Happy Hours" and said he has already pledged not to offer free drinks at his establishment.
Hedlund sponsored an amendment that would apply the same liquor laws to bars and restaurants as casinos, potentially allowing for reduced or free drinks and other promotions. He is part-owner of , a restaurant and bar that at the Braintree edge of Weymouth Landing.
Stephen V. May, a candidate for the seat Hedlund holds that covers parts of Plymouth and Norfolk counties, said on Thursday that his letter to the ethics commission had been received.
He argued that Hedlund was the principal legislative supporter behind the amendment – also pushed by the Restaurant and Business Alliance – and because his name is attached to the liquor license in Braintree, Hedlund "personally would benefit" if the amendment included in the Senate bill that passed late Thursday afternoon was also included in a compromise with the House.
Hedlund said that he filed a disclosure statement with the commission, and had also acknowledged his part ownership on the floor of the Senate. Furthermore, Hedlund said, the amendment would affect the entire restaurant industry in Massachusetts and not just Four Square.
"It is unfortunate that anyone would consider operating a business and creating jobs to be a liability to the legislative process," Hedlund said.
The senator also shot back at May, saying that as a lobbyist and candidate, he should disclose his own funding sources for a nonprofit he founded.
"I do not blame Mr. May for seeking publicity for his fledgling campaign, but it is clear that as someone with no private sector background he was confused by this non-issue," Helund said. The bottom line is that Mr. May’s complaint is self-serving and frivolous. It should be dismissed."
David Giannotti, a spokesman for the ethics commission, said he is restricted by confidentiality law from either confirming or denying that a complaint has been received.
The news media has "misleadingly dubbed this amendment the 'Happy Hour Amendment,'" Hedlund said in his statement. "While gaming establishments shall be permitted to distribute alcohol free of charge, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) and the Gaming Liquor Enforcement Unit are required to promulgate regulations surrounding the distribution of those drinks.
"The Local Restaurant Protection amendment does not lift the ban on happy hours in Massachusetts," he continued. "It simply requires that the same rules that apply to casinos apply to all businesses in the Commonwealth, creating a level playing field..."
State law in potential conflict of interest cases such as these hinges on two areas – whether an official participates in a "particular matter" that benefits him, his family or business interests, and whether an official is required to disclose possible conflicts.
"Particular matter," as defined by Massachusetts General Law Chapter 268A, includes judicial proceedings, contracts, arrests and other acts but excludes "enactment of general legislation by the general court..."
Disclosure is required by any public official "who in the discharge of his official duties would be required knowingly to take an action which would substantially affect such official's financial interests, unless the effect on such an official is no greater than the effect on the general public..."