The state's Ethics Commission imposed the fine on a former top economic development aide to Governor Deval Patrick for secretly pursuing the presidency of theMassachusetts Biotechnology Council last year while using his state job to help develop tax breaks and other incentives that were crucial to the industry trade group, The Boston Globe reports.
The investigation found that Robert Coughlin, a former state representative, began lusting after the $350,000-a-year Mass Biotech job just a few weeks after the governor hired him as undersecretary of business development. He then spent the next five months secretly seeking the private-sector job without telling his superiors in Patrick's administration and without removing himself from policy decisions affecting his future employer, as required by state law, the Ethics Commission said.
Coughlin was a key Patrick administration official involved in developing the governor's $1 billion biotech industry stimulus, which included tax incentives and development grants for companies in Massachusetts, the Globe writes. The Ethics Commission, in finding Coughlin violated state ethics law, said his actions created an appearance that the Mass Biotechnology Council "could unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties."
Despite the fine, the Biotechnology Council said yesterday that it would take no action against Coughlin and planned to keep him in the high-profile post, in which he serves as the public face of the state's huge and influential biopharmaceutical industry.
The council, which has 550 members, including many large corporations, lobbies Beacon Hill on life science issues and the industry's economic needs. Coughlin's predecessor in the job, Thomas Finneran, the former House speaker, was forced to resign under a cloud after pleading guilty to federal obstruction charges almost two years ago.
In a statement, Mark Leuchtenberger, council chairman, says the council is "happy to have closure on this case. Bob Coughlin has done a great job leading the MBC, and we are confident we made the right choice in appointing him president. We look forward to having Bob lead the organization in 2009 and beyond." He led the search committee that chose Coughlin.
David Giannotti, an ethics commission spokesman, says the Coughlin investigation is considered a confidential matter and declined to comment. The Globe obtained the Ethics Commission findings from a person whom Coughlin authorized to release the agreement. In a statement, Coughlin expressed relief that the 15-month investigation that has clouded his tenure as head of the Biotechnology Council is over.
"I'm glad to have this matter resolved," he said "I have a great job and I love coming to work every day to lead an organization that represents not just jobs and growth opportunities, but most importantly improving the lives of patients."