Pundit Payola, Now in Boston

By: (AP) A columnist for the Boston Herald has been awarded a contract worth up to $10,000 from the administration of Gov. Mitt Romney to promote the governor's environmental policies.

Charles D. Chieppo began working with the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs on Thursday. The contract calls for him to assist agency officials in writing Op-Ed pieces and internal documents.

Chieppo writes a general weekly column for the Herald, where he is paid per article. He told The Associated Press on Friday that his request to perform the outside work was fully vetted by the state ethics commission and the Herald.

"The issue, as I understand it, is disclosure," he said. "I have fully disclosed everything to everyone involved."

A Herald spokeswoman, Gwen Gage, said Chieppo won't be allowed to publish anything related to his new job in the Romney administration. She said Chieppo had disclosed the contract to editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen, who decided to allow him to continue his column so long as he avoids topics on which he's advising the state.

Chieppo is the former state policy director of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. He left that job in January.

Critics say the contract is similar to recent cases involving members of the media who are also paid by government agencies to do outside work, notably syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams' arrangement with the White House to promote President Bush's education bill.

Robert Zelnick, chairman of Boston University's journalism department, said Chieppo's situation presents "both the appearance and reality of a conflict of interest."

Despite assurances that Chieppo's duties with the Herald and the administration won't intersect, it's impossible for a reader to take his opinions about the Romney administration at face value because income from his other job could be at stake, Zelnick said.

"A man would not be on the payroll of the administration unless the administration found him sympathetic," Zelnick said.

The contract is for $60 per hour, with a maximum of $10,000.


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