By Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

EASTON -- At a debate with state treasurer candidates Thursday night, Deb Goldberg asked for an apology from the unidentified campaign that raised the issue of her family foundations' multi-million dollar losses to fraudster Bernie Madoff.

Goldberg shared the debate stage at Stonehill College with her Democratic opponents for state treasurer, Rep. Tom Conroy and Sen. Barry Finegold, a few hours after the News Service published a story about her family foundations' Madoff losses, which was based on information provided by a rival campaign.

"I would like to know who on this stage is hiding behind anonymity," Goldberg asked. She said, "Really, what is this? I really quite candidly expect an apology from whoever - who's sitting on this stage with me, who attacked me, my family and our charitable foundation."

Neither of her two opponents on stage offered an apology.

"I don't know any of the details. I do know that Deb and her family have been wonderful and generous in their philanthropy, and from my perspective Bernie Madoff can rot in jail," said Conroy, who continued, "I don't know what this allegation was, but whenever you're making investment choices and you're managing money, you need to assess risk."

"That wasn't my job. That was the investment manager's job," interjected Goldberg, whose campaign said the investments with Madoff occurred before Goldberg joined the board.


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Goldberg declined to comment beyond a statement after the debate.

"One's a personal private funding matter. The other one - I live a life that basically everything I do gets scrutinized," Finegold answered.

Michael Heffernan, the Republican nominee for treasurer, sat in the audience for the debate and about an hour before the start Tweeted criticism of Goldberg, writing, "Revelations raise serious questions about Deb Goldbergs [sic] qualifications to be treasurer. The fiscal problems facing MA are too great."

Earlier in the debate, Goldberg cited the performance of the Pension Reserves Investment Trust growing 17.6 percent in fiscal year 2014, which she said was second only to California, as an example of an area where Treasurer Steven Grossman, who is running for governor, had success.

The rest of the debate was marked by broad agreement on the potential ills of the State Lottery, which is overseen by the treasurer, and differing tacks on how to ease borrowing for small businesses.

Conroy and Finegold touted programs to partner with community banks, which Conroy said could aid student borrowing and Finegold said could encourage loans to businesses owned by women, veterans and minorities. Goldberg favors a state bank, which she said could finance infrastructure and lend money, while Conroy questioned how such a program would be funded.

"People aren't qualifying because of federal regulations, and so we could give, Tom, as much money to those community banks, and if we can't give people the skills they need to qualify for the loans, the banks can't give it to them," Goldberg said. "But a state-owned bank with taxpayer dollars can do a lot more."

On casinos, Finegold said, "To me it's a bad bet for Massachusetts," citing the downturn in Atlantic City, N.J.

Goldberg said "I've never been a supporter of casino gambling," and said she had seen someone close to her succumb to gambling addiction.

Conroy said he has analyzed the issue and believes Lottery revenues will be "cannibalized" by a casino.

After the debate Heffernan said the three Democrats failed to grasp the seriousness of the state's current level of indebtedness.

"No matter how you adjust our state debt, we're right at the top across the country . . . ," Heffernan said.

Finegold said the state has taken prudent steps toward funding pensions, while cautioning, "If all of a sudden the bonds came due, every person in this room would have to write a $19,000 check."

Conroy said he wrote legislation that enhanced the state's credit rating. Goldberg noted the state has relatively good credit scores and said state government carries debt that in other states is carried by county governments. 

After the debate, all four candidates differed from Grossman, who has explored how to pursue online Lottery games and supported a bill to change the law allowing for pilot programs and experimentation in that arena.

Finegold said he had a "real big concern" about online games; Goldberg opposes them; Conroy said, "I don't think there's any need to go there right away" and Heffernan said, "I'm not currently in favor of it, but you have to keep an open mind."

Heffernan and Finegold told the News Service they would likely keep the very successful $30 "World Class Millions" ticket, while Conroy said it is "something to think about" and Goldberg said she would undertake a "full analysis on every single game" before making any changes.

The Goldberg Family Foundation invested an estimated 42 percent of its assets in Madoff and the Sidney & Esther Rabb Foundation invested an estimated 65 percent in Madoff, according to a National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report.

"It's obviously a very painful period for Deb and her family," Heffernan told the News Service Friday morning, saying the lack of diversification in the foundation's investment troubled him. He said, "It's investing 101 not to have that kind of exposure to any one manager."