Paul Jacob

Bay Staters may also recall that Bulger left the state senate and became president of the University of Massachusetts, a post he was forced to resign from by then-Governor Mitt Romney, after Billy Bulger disclosed that he had been in communication with his brother, Whitey Bulger, the wanted fugitive.

When forced to appear before the Congressional Government Reform Committee, the politician Bulger applied his Fifth Amendment protections from self-incrimination by refusing to testify about his brother. Billy declined to talk to the FBI as well.

Blood is thicker than water, so it’s not hard to sympathize with a brother’s desire not to rat on a beloved black sheep. Still, beyond blood, the style and methods of Brothers Billy and Whitey seem connected, even with their completely, absolutely, totally different fields of politics and organized crime.

When Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby referred to “the Bulger Mafia,” he was writing about the politician, not the crime boss.

Senate President Billy Bulger was known for turning the screws to those who crossed him. Then-State Senator William Keating, now congressman, says his donors were threatened. “People are intimidated,” Keating told Jacoby. “Anybody with a nexus to the state is afraid to get involved. Contributors don’t want to write checks over $50, because then their names have to be reported.”

Jacoby reported hearing the same story from others, including Jack Flood, a senatorial candidate, who said, “They’re afraid of what will happen to them if they go against Bulger. I can’t blame them.”

Is extortion too strong a word to ascribe to Bulger’s political operations? Maybe, though the implication abounds. Unlike subsequent legislative leaders, at least Bulger’s time in the legislature wasn’t followed by time in prison.

Still, Billy Bulger’s lawlessness competes with fugitive brother Whitey’s when it comes to fighting against term limits. The Massachusetts state constitution says that when enough voters sign petitions, the Legislature “shall” vote on those citizen-proposed amendments. If at least 25 percent of those in both legislative chambers vote in favor, the issue goes to the ballot for voters to decide.

Yet, with more than the required voter signatures and enough legislators in support to send term limits to the ballot, where voters would certainly pass it, Senate President Bulger refused to bring the issue to a vote, adjourning the legislative session and blocking the petition, in violation of his oath of office and his constitutional duty under the law.

“Efforts to obtain term limits by a constitutional amendment foundered in 1992,” wrote the state’s highest court, “because of the refusal of the Legislature in joint session to take final action on such a proposal as the Constitution of the Commonwealth directed. We concluded in LIMITS v. President of the Senate, supra, that this court should not direct the Legislature to exercise its mandated function . . . on principles of separation of powers.”

Two brothers have a problem following the law. One brother is facing the rest of his life behind bars; the other has a pension of nearly $200,000 a year.

Life certainly isn’t fair.      [further reading]

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.