GoFundMe campaign cited in push for ethics law change

Boston Statehouse
Boston State House

Boston State House

BOSTON (SHNS) – When a first responder is injured in the line of duty, there is often an outpouring of public support for the injured person and their family. But in some cases, the public’s goodwill might be stymied by state ethics rules that prohibit public employees from accepting donations made because of their job.

Rep. Steven Xiarhos said that’s exactly what happened with State Police Trooper John Lennon, who was shot during a Hyannis traffic stop last November. As Lennon recovered in the hospital, he said, the trooper’s classmates from the State Police Academy created a GoFundMe campaign that would eventually raise more than $162,000. It was initially titled “Support for Trooper Lennon.”

“It’s only natural that people would want to support these public servants and help them get back on their feet and help their family pay medical bills and other expenses in times of trouble,” Xiarhos said. “But there’s a problem: Under our existing Massachusetts law, it’s a violation of the state ethics code for a public employee to accept money from someone else that’s given because of their position.”

The legality of the fundraiser for Lennon was called into question last year and Xiarhos said Tuesday that he was not aware if any final call was made relative to its permissibility. A Cape Cod Times report last year said that $17,000 raised on GoFundMe for two Falmouth police officers who had been shot in the line of duty in 2017 had to be returned to donors.

Xiarhos on Tuesday asked the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight to give a favorable report to his bill (H 3252) that would create a “specific and purposeful exemption” from the state ethics law for efforts to raise money for a first responder who is seriously injured in the line of duty. 

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