Friday, September 18, 2009

Newsmakers: Government Watchdogs.

Operation Clean Gov't, Common Cause guests

Updated: Sunday, 06 Sep 2009, 3:07 PM EDT
Published : Sunday, 06 Sep 2009, 3:07 PM EDT

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - This week on Newsmakers: What to do with the Ethics Commission? Following a Supreme Court decision this year that protects state legislators from much of the Ethics Commission bite, there is a move to change the state Constitution. Executive Director of Common Cause John Marion along with the President of Operation Clean Government Larry Valencia outline their plan to put the Ethics Commission back on the General Assembly map.

Then a march to promote less government is planned on Washington DC for September 12th. Local organizer Doreen Costa talks about the mission.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Common Cause urges AG to keep letters public

On Friday, August 15, the Providence Journal printed an article entitled,
“Common Cause weighs in on letters,” written by Ed Fitzpatrick. The article highlights a letter sent by Common Cause RI to Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch about letters submitted on behalf of candidates for judicial office.

Click here to read the full Providence Journal article

Click here to read the August 13, letter sent to Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Commission to Choose Candidates for Superior Court Chief

By Katie Mulvaney

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — After a two-month break, the Judicial Nominating Commission will be back this week to begin selecting possible candidates to be the next presiding justice of Superior Court.

The nine-member commission Tuesday will chose who it will interview to succeed Presiding Justice Joseph F. Rodgers Jr. following his retirement Aug. 28. The deadline to apply is Friday.

The commission also expects next week to begin advertising for applications for the state Supreme Court seat left open by Justice Paul A. Suttell’s elevation to chief justice, said Stephen J. Carlotti, commission chairman.

The commission in June completed a whirlwind round of interviews and public hearings for state bench vacancies, including the chief justice seat. Since the start of the year, the commission forwarded lists of finalists for five judgeships to Governor Carcieri.

Carcieri in May nominated Suttell, a former Republican lawmaker with six years on the high court, as chief justice. The General Assembly unanimously approved the nomination. In July, Suttell was sworn in with great fanfare after winning sweeping approval and wide praise from legislators.

In June, the governor selected Kristin E. Rodgers, a past partner with the Providence firm of Blish & Cavanagh, to fill the seat vacated by Superior Court Judge Vincent A. Ragosta’s retirement in May 2008. Rodgers’ nomination came the same day her father, Presiding Justice Rodgers, announced he would retire. She took her oath the day after Suttell.

Carcieri has yet to make nominations to the legislature for the five other judicial openings, including a District Court seat that’s been vacant since March 2008, the chief judge position on that court, a Superior Court seat and two on the Family Court. That number will rise to six with Rodgers’ retirement and possibly seven, if President Obama names Superior Court Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seat vacated by Senior Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have recommended her.

By law, the governor “shall” select a nominee within 21 days of receiving the commission’s list of finalists. The governor has said he considers that deadline advisory.

State lawmakers agreed last session to extend to June 2010 a law that allows the governor to select nominees from lists of finalists submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission over the previous five years.

First passed in 2007, the legislation was backed by Governor Carcieri and opposed by the government watchdog group Common Cause Rhode Island. Before its enactment, the governor could choose nominees only from a list of three to five finalists selected by the Judicial Nominating Commission for a particular judicial vacancy.

Under the law, the governor can choose from any finalist list generated by the commission for various court seats over the previous five years. The law does not pertain to chief judge positions or to the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Let’s Amend the Constitution

Common Cause proposes allowing the people to decide whether to the Constitution of the State of Rhode Island in response to the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s recent decision in William V. Irons vs. The Rhode Island Ethics Commission. We are asking the General Assembly to put the following language (additions in bold) on the ballot in 2010:



Section 8. Ethics Commission – Code of Ethics – Jurisdiction. The general assembly shall establish an independent non-partisan ethics commission which shall adopt a code of ethics including, but not limited to, provisions on conflict of interest, confidential information, use of position, contracts with government agencies and financial disclosure. All elected and appointed officials of state and local government, of boards, commissions and agencies, shall be subject to the code of ethics and the jurisdiction of the ethics commission. The ethics commission shall have the jurisdiction and authority to investigate and adjudicate alleged violations of the code of ethics, including all acts otherwise protected by Article VI, Section 5, and to impose penalties, as provided by law; and the commission shall have the power to remove from office officials who are not subject to impeachment.



Section 5. Immunities of General Assembly members. The persons of all members of the general assembly shall be exempt from arrest and their estates from attachment in any civil action, during the session of the general assembly, and two days before the commencement and two days after the termination thereof, and all process served contrary hereto shall be void. For any speech in debate in either house, no member shall be questioned in any other place, except as set forth in Article III, section 8 of this Constitution.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Common Cause leader: Get Money Out of Politics

by Russell J. Moore

Perhaps the biggest myth surrounding the ongoing fight in Congress to overhaul the nation’s health care system is that politicians and their bureaucrats are crafting a bill opposed by the health care industry, and in particular, the insurance industry.

A report by Common Cause, a non-partisan national organization with a chapter in Rhode Island that seeks to make government more open and accountable, seeks to debunk the myth. The report, titled “Legislating Unger The Influence”, details that from 2000 to 2008, health insurance companies have spent $83,695,546.

In 2008 alone, the health insurance industry spent over $20 million in campaign contributions to Congressional candidates.

This year, with the health care debate raging in Congress and across the country, the health care lobby, including health care professionals, pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies, are spending an average of $1.4 million per day, says Common Cause.

“Every issue that Congress has to address today is tainted by the current system of campaign contributions and money in politics,” said Bob Edgar, Common Cause national president.

Edgar should know. He spent 12 years as a Democrat member of the House of Representatives, and left politics after losing a Senatorial bid to Philadelphia Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), who was then a Republican.

The loss, in which Edgar claims to have been outspent by the Specter campaign, emboldened him to work for campaign finance reform. After a stint Edgar took with the National Council of Churches, he joined Common Cause. Edgar was in Rhode Island for a fundraiser, and took time to sit down with local reporters late last week.

The health care debate, Edgar said, while a vitally important issue, is merely a microcosm for how things work in Washington. The result, he said, is politicians caring more about placating special interest groups instead of their own constituents.

“If I’m a congressional candidate in Rhode Island, I don’t really have to raise any money from my own constituents. I can rely solely on special interest groups to fund my campaign,” said Edgar.

Common Cause’s Rhode Island chapter supports a relatively diverse group of interests, some of which would appeal to conservatives, and others to liberals.

For instance, Common Cause supports the removal of the so-called “master lever,” which allows a voter to check off one box and vote for all candidates belonging to a particular political party.

On the other hand, Common Cause supports public financing for elections, a position that is supported by progressives but conservatives take issue with given the fact that it spends taxpayer money.

Edgar seemed to gloss over the fact that Obama broke his pledge to accept public financing for his presidential bid last year. The president did so with the realization that accepting public financing would neutralize what was to be his significant fundraising advantage.

In any event, Edgar said he was hopeful that Congress would overhaul campaign financing. That, he said, would prevent the influence of special interest groups in serious debates like health care.

“We’re not anti-lobbyists. We’re anti-money in the system. We’re lobbyists ourselves, but we’re sort of like the Don Quixote of lobbyists,” said Edgar.

John Marion, the group’s Rhode Island executive director, said that the part-time legislature often relies on lobbyists for information—not an ideal situation.

“I had a Representative once ask me who I was a lobbyist for and when I told him he said, ‘oh you’re the guys with the good information,’” said Marion.

That’s the case, Marion said, largely because the group lobbies only for good government.

Common Cause also advocates for more participation in politics, and would like to see universal voting.

“The best system is an educated public,” said Edgar.

Edgar also joked that as a Congressman, he felt he was more likely to be corrupted by his friend in Congress, as opposed to his foes.

“Your friends are more likely to corrupt you. Your enemies only want to defeat you, but your friends will try to corrupt you,” said Edgar.

Heard us on WRNI?

Hi, and welcome to Common Cause Rhode Island.

You’ve probably found yourself here because you heard about us on WRNI. We’re excited to be reaching out to potential new supporters through public radio. While you’re here we invite you to look around our website on some of the issues we’re working on. Perhaps you can join us for an educational forum on the future of the Ethics Commission on September 16th, or to hear about the future of newspapers at our Annual Meeting on October 29th. Or you can sign up to receive our email alerts. Common Cause, and our meetings and events, are open to anyone and we encourage you to take part.

If you have any questions about or organization, or would like more information about getting involved, feel free to contact us at or call (401) 861-2322. And thank you for visiting.


John Marion
Executive Director