Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The inquisition begins: Coughlin under the microscope

Frank Phillips of the Globe reports today that the State Ethics Commission "has launched a formal investigation to determine whether the new president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, Robert K. Coughlin, violated conflict-of-interest laws when he entered job talks with the industry association while continuing to work as Governor Deval Patrick's economic development undersecretary, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation."

His story says that the Mass Biotech Council received subpoenas last week asking for e-mail and phone records. But the worst punishment the Ethics Commission can dole out is a $2,000 fine, if Coughlin is found guilty of having violated the state's conflict-of-interest law in interviewing for his current job.

So far, this hire has been a complete disaster for Mass part because it totally hamstrings (at least for now) Coughlin's ability to work the media and elected officials on the Council's behalf. At best, they've been paying him for a month to learn more about how the Council and the biotech industry operate, and organize his desk blotter.

Earlier blog posts on the issue are here.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bob Coughlin in the bunker

My columnizing idol, Steve Bailey, has a great piece in the Globe this morning about the hiring process at the Mass Biotech Council. A snippet:

    [Bob] Coughlin started his new job last week, and should be celebrating and out glad-handing after landing one of the juiciest plums in the local lobbying business - a position that paid the last guy, former House Speaker Tom Finneran, a reported $500,000 a year. Instead, Coughlin is now, by necessity, deep in the bunker at the biotech council's offices in Cambridge as the state Ethics Commission investigates how the Patrick administration's point man to the biotech industry came to be its top lobbyist.

Is there a way to recover from this situation? It'll be interesting to see Coughlin and Mass Bio's plan play out...

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

From the Globe: 'Biotech council's direction dismays some members'

Todd Wallack's piece this morning is worth a read if you work in life sciences. The opening:

    As the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council's new leader faces ethics questions, some members say they have become disenchanted with the trade group, including its increasing focus on lobbying, a high staff turnover rate, and the low number of top executives serving on its board.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Coughlin Incident: New Mass Biotech Chief Off to a Rocky Start

The new head of the Massachusetts Biotech Council, Robert Coughlin, is already in some pretty warm water, facing an ethics complaint filed by Republicans because he may not have notified the governor soon enough that he was talking to the Council about taking the gig.

Coughlin apparently met with the Mass Biotech Council's search committee on June 11th, according to the Globe, but didn't disclose to Gov. Patrick that he was in discussions until July 24th, when he recused himself from overseeing life sciences issues. The Council announced his appointment, somewhat abruptly, on August 13th, four days after the other candidate for the job, State Senator Jack Hart, dropped out of contention. Coughlin was on vacation in the wilds of Colorado and couldn't give the Globe an interview on the day of his announcement -- a strange stumble during what you'd expect would be a well-planned PR event.

Here are the stories:

In that last piece, columnist Joan Vennochi writes:

    ...All it would have taken was for Coughlin to disclose his discussions at the outset. Under state law, that disclosure is supposed to trigger a review that would either reassign his state duties to another employee, or determine that reassignment wasn't necessary.
    Now, the public has the right to wonder if Coughlin's job talks influenced his policy negotiations on the state's behalf.
    And the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council has the right to wonder how much the controversy influences their access to the Patrick administration.

Coughlin's first day on the job is the Tuesday after Labor Day.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Mass Biotech Council Picks Another Pol

The Mass Biotech Council has picked former Massachusetts State Rep Robert Coughlin as its new president. Coughlin has been serving as undersecretary of business development in the Deval Patrick administration.

Here's a quick roundup on Coughlin:

Coughlin starts in October. No word whether Mass Biotech is paying him Tom Finneran's old salary, which was $416,000.

(Photo of Coughlin courtesy of Mass Biotech Council.)

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