By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Auditor Suzanne Bump on Wednesday flatly denied allegations by a former top aide that she was conducting campaign business out of her State House office as her political foes seized on a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in federal court.
Former First Deputy Auditor Laura Marlin filed a lawsuit in United State District Court on Wednesday alleging she was fired after Bump got angry about her protestations that the auditor stop conducting campaign re-election activity out of her State House office and mixing politics with official business.
"I am proud of the ethical standards that I have established and continue to uphold for my office. They have contributed to our receipt this spring of the highest possible rating from our peers in government auditing," Bump said in a statement released late Wednesday afternoon. "As her former employer, I must respect Ms. Marlin's privacy rights, so I will not elaborate on the reasons for asking for her resignation other than to say that it was for cause."
Republican Patricia Saint Aubin, who is challenging Bump in the November election, suggested the allegations put forward by Marlin may be cause for a criminal investigation into Bump, while gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker called the suit "another stark reminder of a lack of accountability and transparency under one-party rule.
The lawsuit paints a picture of Bump's office in stark contrast to the image the Great Barrington Democrat sought to project when she took over in 2011 from longtime Auditor Joseph DeNucci. Bump hired an outside organization to review the office and fired 27 employees found to be unqualified for their positions, vowing to restore a level of professionalism to the office.
"If the allegations are true, then that certainly falls under the criteria of being unethical and potentially criminal," Saint Aubin said. "We presently have someone in charge of the auditor's office who doesn't know how to audit and she's doing other things."
Marlin alleges that Bump "hurled invectives" at her when she challenged the ethical integrity of Bump's suggestion that Marlin should have called the political director of Service Employees International Union Local 509 during the course of the office's audit of the embattled Department of Children and Families.
Many of SEIU's members work at the child welfare agency, and Bump the day before the confrontation with Marlin had met with the labor union seeking its endorsement for her re-election campaign. The meeting between Bump and the union had been scheduled for Bump's State House office until Marlin told the auditor it would be improper to have political meetings in the office, and it was moved offsite, according to the lawsuit.
Bump said in her statement that she never asked or had others ask employees to conduct campaign business on state time or in state buildings, and denied ever scheduling or holding a meeting in the State House with a labor or political organization to seek their endorsement.
"Most importantly, I have never allowed any organization or individual to influence the conduct or independence of an audit," Bump said. "All of these allegations against me and my office are without merit. I will be conducting a vigorous defense of my reputation and my office's ethical standards."
Saint Aubin said that short of a criminal investigation into Bump's activities, voters at the very least should support her campaign in light the controversy.
"These unconscionable allegations of illegal campaign activities and a rigged audit of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), to protect political supporters, are more disturbing evidence of corruption created by one-party rule on Beacon Hill," Saint Aubin said in a statement.
Saint Aubin went on to claim that since taking office in 2011 Bump has "failed to do even 50 % of the audits she's required to do," citing the declining number of audits produced by her office over the past three years and Bump's own goal of auditing all 375 state agencies at least once every three years.
Marlin resigned from the auditor's office on May 23 after being told by Bump that she would be fired otherwise, according to the lawsuit. The professional relationship between the two women dates to the early days of Bump's time in the Patrick administration when Marlin worked as the commissioner of the Division of Occupational Safety under Bump in the Labor Department from 2007 through 2010 before leaving to manage Bump's first statewide campaign for auditor.
When asked about Marlin's departure in June, Bump spokeswoman Lauren DeFilippo said she left "to pursue other opportunities," but declined to elaborate on why Marlin left her job or what she planned to do next. Asked whether Marlin had been asked to leave or quit voluntarily, DeFilippo said, "That's all I have. No comment."
An aide to Bump on Wednesday said the auditor had no further public events scheduled for the week, but the office was preparing a statement. Marlin, likewise, was not available for an interview. She is being represented by Hillary Schwab, an attorney with Fair Work in Boston.
The lawsuit alleges that Bump violated Marlin's First Amendment rights and the Massachusetts Whistleblower Act, "tortuously interfered" with her employment and fired her in violation of public policy.
Marlin, of Swampscott, is seeking lost wages and benefits, emotional distress and punitive damages, treble damages, interest, attorney's fees and other relief.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker called the lawsuit allegations more evidence of "abuses of power" by one-party rule on Beacon Hill, a recurring theme for not just his campaign but all the Republicans running for statewide office.
"The deeply troubling allegations that the public servant charged with keeping state agencies honest was conducting campaign activities on the taxpayers' dime and influencing audits for political gain serve as another stark reminder of a lack of accountability and transparency under one-party rule," Baker said.
The lawsuit claims that Bump dismissed Marlin's concerns after the auditor instructed an unnamed state representative to come to the office to pick up nomination papers to assist in the collection of signatures to qualify for the ballot. Marlin also cautioned Bump about adhering to campaign and ethics rules after campaign staff came to the State House and dropped off campaign paperwork in Marlin's office.
The May 13 meeting between Bump and an official from the SEIU took place outside the State House after Marlin was told by Bump not to attend the meeting because it was "political" and Marlin warned her not to hold the meeting in the office as scheduled.
On the day of the meeting, Bump asked Marlin to prepare a list of the audits the office was conducting or preparing to initiate, which Marlin did. The next day on May 14 Marlin met with Bump to discuss the list, and that's when, according to the lawsuit, Bump told Marlin she should have contacted the SEIU's political director because the union has members who work at DCF.
Marlin allegedly told Bump that such contact would have compromised the independence of the audit in violation of the Comptroller General's auditing standards and delivered to Bump a memo on the topic, which made the auditor "extremely angry and combative."
Five days later on Monday, May 19, Bump told Marlin was being fired because "based on (their) interaction the previous week," she "could no longer trust (Ms. Marlin) to act in the best interest of the organization."
Marlin's computer access had already been turned off, and general counsel Gerry McDonough gave her until the following morning to resign as an alternative to being fired.