BOSTON (CN) — The Massachusetts Senate stripped state Senator Dean Tran of his leadership position as assistant minority whip on Thursday afternoon, after an ethics probe found election law violations.
One of just four Republicans in the 40-member Massachusetts Senate, Tran is seeking re-election this November. He has represented Worcester and Middlesex since a 2017 special election.
Thursday’s report from the Senate Committee on Ethics notes that an anonymous whistleblower sent two letters requesting an investigation of Tran late last year, but that the Senate Office of Human Resources and the Office of Senate Counsel both had fielded concerns from staff about Tran “almost as soon as he took office in December 2017.”
“Often, those concerns centered on potential violations of the conflict of interest and campaign finance laws,” the report states.
The ethics committee found merit in the allegations raised in the two October letters, which said Tran had used staff from his office at the state House to run his 2018 re-election campaign and to fundraise while they were being paid as state employees.
“For significant periods during the 2018 campaign, Senator Tran’s staff did not ‘contribute to the work of the Senate’ and their work was not ‘commensurate with the compensation received,'” the 15-page report states. “Because he was aware of his staff’s campaign work on state time — and likely insisted on it — Senator Tran violated Senate Rule 10A; and Senator Tran also likely violated various sections of the conflict of interest and campaign finance laws.”
Tran instructed his staff to maintain “supporters” lists of potential campaign donors. The list was generated from constituents or anyone else whom Tran’s office helped or interacted with.
One anonymous staffer who reported Tran described having their job threatened upon telling the senator’s campaign manager that public employees could not be forced to perform campaign work.
Numerous officials from the state and Tran’s own party repeatedly warned the senator to stop using his staff for campaign work, the ethics commission found.
“Nonetheless, Senator Tran did not change his conduct or take any corrective steps. Indeed, one staffer remembered that Senator Tran stated that he did not believe the advice he had been given,” the report states.
The Senate Ethics Committee is a bipartisan committee that includes Republican minority leader Bruce Tarr.
As per the committee’s recommendations, the Senate stripped Tran of his leadership position and ordered him to segregate himself from his staff.
“The committee’s work was difficult and accomplished during challenging times,” state Senator and Ethics Committee Chair Eric Lesser said in an email. “While the report speaks for itself, I would add that the committee’s investigation was thorough and its conclusions were unanimous.”
Tran denounced the committee’s findings as deceptive and the result of an unfair hearing process.
“The Senate Counsel ignored my statement and answers, focused on information that they wanted, and developed its own narrative,” Tran said in a statement. “The Senate Counsel’s report is nothing more than a partisan and opinionated report based on lies and hearsay without giving me an opportunity to challenge any part of it. The credibility of the information is based on who the information came from and the report accepted anything and everything from anybody. They have made recommendations such as removing me from my leadership position, but I believe their goal and objective are to paint me in a negative light. Simply, it is an attempt to remove me from office in an election year.”
An immigrant father of four, Tran touts himself as “the first and only Vietnamese-American to hold an elected office in Massachusetts.”