Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Common Cause RI is hiring!

EMPLOYER: Common Cause
1133 19th Street N.W. 9th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20036

DEPARTMENT: State Operations

POSITION AVAILABLE: Associate Director—Position located in Rhode Island

REPORTS TO: Executive Director

SUMMARY OF POSITION: The Associate Director works in collaboration with the Executive Director in a multi-faceted role. The primary responsibility is to develop, manage, and assure execution of all aspects of the Common Cause fundraising program: Major gifts, annual giving, membership, corporate and foundation relations, special events, and planned giving. Responsible for design, production/publication of written and electronic communications to membership and the RI community. Day to day administrative and office support duties required due to small nature of office, with minimal supervision or direction. Demonstrates consistent commitment to advancing organization’s mission and objectives.

ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS: Fundraising: Create fund development strategies with the Executive Director and Board to ensure long term viability and build sustained capacity over time; Design and implement an annual fundraising plan with agreed goals and objectives, and submit written progress reports regularly to the Development Committee and Board; Major donors: Support Board members in their relationships with major donors; cultivate new major donor prospects, and upgrade existing donors to major donor status; New donors, members and volunteers: Develop specific plans to cultivate new relationships, engaging and assisting Board members in this effort; Coordinate, with Board leadership, all aspects and details of plans for the Annual Meeting and other fundraising and educational events; Develop and track proposals and reports for all foundation and corporate fundraising; Maintain the fundraising database, gift acknowledgement, and other key aspects of stewardship and donor cultivation—correspondence, phone calls, reports, mailings, etc. Communications: Design a communication plan directed to multiple audiences, with different media preferences; Content development and publication of printed and electronic communications, including press releases, newsletters, promotional materials, and email/ website updates.

QUALIFICATIONS: Demonstrated leadership and organizing ability; excellent written and oral communications skills; strong fundraising skills; ability to work under pressure; familiarity with the state legislature and legislative process; strong interpersonal skills; commitment to the public interest; ability to work independently; willingness to travel; experience in public presentations, desktop publishing, volunteer management, database management and financial management desirable; Undergraduate degree required, advance degree a plus.

TO APPLY: Please submit resume, cover letter and salary requirements to Director of Human Resources at and include Associate Director—Rhode Island in the subject line; or fax to 202-355-7546. No phone calls please. Applicants are encouraged to respond as soon as possible.

About Common Cause:
Common Cause is a nonpartisan nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest. Now with nearly 300,000 members and supporters and 36 state organizations, Common Cause remains committed to honest, open and accountable government, as well as encouraging citizen participation in democracy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rhode Island General Assembly: Leave our care alone

05:00 PM EDT on Monday, April 19, 2010

State lawmakers once again spared their own free health-care packages — costing up to $18,061 annually — from last week’s round of state government, municipal aid and pension cuts.

Starting July 1, state employees will pay between 15 and 25 percent of the premiums for their own health, dental and vision-care packages. State lawmakers opted against voting to do the same, amid stated concerns by their Republican and Democratic leaders that voting on their own compensation packages might put them in violation of the state ethics code, a notion that has since been dispelled by the state Ethics Commission.

“Generally when a public body wants to change their own compensation structure, we tell them to go ahead and vote and implement it after the next election,” said Ethics Commission lawyer Jason Gramitt.

The issue came up in the early-morning hours of Wednesday, when the part-time lawmakers were still voting on a bill to close a projected $220-million deficit in the current budget year that ends June 30. Rep. Karen Macbeth, D-Cumberland, proposed an amendment that would have required the state’s lawmakers to pay 15 percent of the cost of their health benefits.

Many lawmakers voluntarily contribute something toward the cost of their coverage. Others do not. Here is a rundown, according to the legislative business office: In the House, those paying nothing include: Representatives Grace Diaz, Brian Kennedy, David Segal and Timothy Williamson.

Rep. Scott Pollard is paying 5 percent of the premium cost. Those paying 10 percent include: Representatives Edith Ajello, Joseph Almeida, Samuel Azzinaro, Jon Brien, Kenneth Carter, Elaine Coderre, Arthur Corvese, Steve Costantino, John DeSimone Laurence Ehrhardt, Robert Flaherty, Gordon Fox, Douglas Gablinske, Raymond Gallison, Alfred Gemma, Arthur Handy, J. Russell Jackson, Donald Lally, John Loughlin, Jan Malik, Peter Martin, Nicholas Mattiello, John McCauley, Joseph McNamara, William Murphy, Eileen Naughton, J. Patrick O’Neill, Edwin Pacheco, Peter Palumbo, Amy Rice, Deborah Ruggiero, William San Bento, John Savage, Gregory Schadone, Maryann Shallcross-Smith, Agostinho Silva, Scott Slater, Joseph Trillo, Donna Walsh, Peter Wasylyk, Robert Watson, Anastasia Williams. Sullivan has been paying 20 percent of the cost of his health insurance package since March.

Representatives David Caprio and Helio Melo are paying 15 percent, while Representatives Brian Newberry, Peter Petrarca, and Thomas Winfield are paying 20 percent.

Those accepting $2,002 waiver payments for not taking the coverage include: Representatives Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, John Carnevale, Rodney Driver, Deborah Fellella, Frank Ferri, Charlene Lima, Karen MacBeth, Mary Messier, Michael Rice, Stephen Ucci and Kenneth Vaudreuil. Those forgoing the waiver payments and coverage include: Roberto DaSilva, John Edwards, Christopher Fierro, Scott Guthrie, Joy Hearn, Robert Jacquard, Peter Kilmartin, Michael Marcello, Rene Menard and Patricia Serpa.

Rep. Joanne Giannini has asked the legislative business office to shave 10 percent off her waiver payment, MacBeth, 15 percent, and Lima 20 percent. A principal of the Leo A. Savoie School in Woonsocket, MacBeth says she donates her waiver payment to needy individuals and groups in her community.

In the Senate, four lawmakers pay nothing: Senators Leo Blais, James Doyle, John McBurney and Dominick Ruggerio.

Those paying 10 percent include Senators Frank Ciccone, Daniel Connors, Marc Cote, Elizabeth Crowley, Daniel DaPointe, Beatrice Lanzi, J. Michael Lenihan, Charles Levesque, Erin Lynch, Michael McCaffrey, Joshua Miller, M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Roger Picard, Rhode Perry, Juan Pichardo, V. Susan Sosnowski, John Tassoni and William Walaska. Those paying 20 percent include: Dennis Algiere, David Bates, Edward O’Neill, and Michael Pinga.

Senators accepting the $2,002 waiver payment include: Frank DeVall, Walter Felag, Hanna Gallo, Chrisopher Maselli, and Harold Metts. Those eschewing both the waiver payment and the coverage include: Louis DiPalma, Paul Fogarty, Maryellen Goodwin, Paul Jabour and James Sheehan. Sen. Leonidas Raptakis gave up his state health insurance on April 12, 2009, which entitles him to a pro-rated portion of the $2,002 waiver payment given legislators who forgo the coverage which, in his case, totaled $1,386 for last year.

Sen. Francis T. Maher Jr., R-Exeter, is not taking the health insurance or waiver payment.

Consequences alleged of term limits

Second thoughts anyone about term-limits?

This is what John Marion, executive director of the citizens’ advocacy group Common Cause, had to say about some of term-limited Governor Carcieri’s two Florida vacations in the last month while the state was still digging out of historic flooding and budget crises, and his creation of a nonpublic account to finance his radio ad campaigns.

“There are unintended consequences to any reform, and I think this is an example of an unintended consequence of term limits,” Marion said.

“I’m sure there were arguments at the time they were enacted that expanding the length of the term from two to four years had benefits (less campaigning, more governing).… [But] the term-limit movement that was so strong in the U.S. in the 1990s has clearly run its course, and perhaps this is an example why,” he said.

Carcieri spokeswoman Amy Kempe confirmed on Friday that the Republican governor left the night before for a week in Florida. “The governor is spending the legislative break in Florida with his family,” she said. Carcieri took heat for overseeing the state’s flood-cleanup efforts from Florida this month. In the last year of his final four-year term, he is barred by term limits from running for reelection.

A former political science teacher, Marion noted that term limits have had mixed results in states that extended them to lawmakers, including “a loss of professionalization in the ranks of legislators, and the emergence of new, young leaders such as the thirty-something speaker of the House in Maine.… It also seems to lead to more competition for higher office as people term-limit out of their current office.”

Here in Rhode Island, Marion said he didn’t think “now [was] the time to revisit term limits,” and “we should avoid making systemic changes based on the behavior of a single individual.”

Tea Partiers become State House lobbyists

Taking further steps toward becoming entrenched political players, seven members of the Rhode Island Tea Party movement have become registered State House lobbyists.

They include talk radio regular Bruno “Buddy” Tassoni, who, when spotted wearing a purple lobbying badge at an outdoor State House rally last week, said: “The Tea Party is a force to be reckoned with.” (And yes — that’s the same Tassoni of the infamous Carcieri talk-radio comment — “Amen to you, Buddy.”) Added another of the Tea Party’s registered lobbyists, Diane McLaughlin: “We are trying to become a little more formalized so we can have a little more impact.”

Indeed, the outsider group’s latest move into the established political world follows the formation of a political action committee that allows the conservative organization to begin donating money to individual candidates and making endorsements.

In addition to Tassoni and McLaughlin, the full list of lobbyists registered with the group, “Rhode Island Tea Party, Inc.,” is as follows: Maureen Kearney, Richard Langseth, Judith Gallagher, William Perry, and Kenneth Page.

Walaska opts not to run for state treasurer

State Sen. William A. Walaska, D-Warwick, has decided not to run for state treasurer this year.

Walaska, a Warwick Democrat, had been considering a run for the job held by Gen. Treas. Frank T. Caprio, a Democrat now running for governor. He plans to seek reelection instead.

Gerald M. Carbone, a Warwick Democrat who was a Providence Journal reporter for 18 years, has filed a notice with the state Board of Elections and is considering challenging Walaska for the Senate seat.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information provided by the Joint Committee on Legislative Services on the health insurance status of Rep. Raymond Sullivan, D-Coventry, and Senators Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, and and Francis T. Maher Jr., R-Exeter. Sullivan has been paying 20 percent of the cost of his health insurance package since March, not 10 percent, as the JCLS reported. Raptakis gave up his state health insurance on April 12, 2009, which entitles him to a pro-rated portion of the $2,002 waiver payment given legislators who forgo the coverage which, in his case, totaled $1,386 for last year. Maher is not taking the health insurance or waiver payment.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The complicated world of political ethics

The complicated world of political ethics
on 04-04-2010

Politics as Usual by Jim Baron

There is a certain academic argument that could be made — I know because I sat (for hours) and listened to members of the House Judiciary Committee try to make it a couple of weeks ago — that there is a downside to giving the R.I. Ethics Commission the power to oversee the legislative acts of General Assembly members.

I enjoy a good academic argument as much as the next fellow, but I have to come down on the side of making lawmakers answerable to someone for actions that are unethical. Yes, I am familiar with the argument that they are answerable to voters every two years but 1) sometimes voters aren’t all that vigilant, and may not remember the headlines from an incident a year and a half before, and 2) in too many cases, General Assembly members don’t have an opponent, which leaves voters with no real recourse.
Yes, this power could be taken too far. The entire constitutional provision that creates the Ethics Commission is a minefield of opportunities for it to go too far. But while you can fault the Ethics Commission for many things since its creation in 1986, overzealousness is not one of them. To the contrary, if anything the panel has been too timid too often in dealing with public officials who have crossed the line, or danced perilously close to it.

While it is crystal clear that any vote legislators make that enrich themselves, their families (don’t forget nieces-in-law), their employers or business associates should be fair game for Ethics Commission action, I understand the problem lawmakers have with what they say and where making them liable to an ethics investigation or prosecution.

Yes, merely speaking about a matter in which one has a personal interest could be considered a transgression — if a legislator, particularly one in a leadership position or who is a committee chairman does not actually vote but (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) stands up and states their position before the vote that pretty well meets the definition of unethical.

But say a legislator is an electrician, and there is a bill before the assembly that somehow regulates the behavior of electricians. If that legislator is walking through the corridor of the Statehouse talking to a legislator buddy about how this is a stupid proposal that shows no knowledge of how electricians work (not out of the realm of possibility) is that legislator violating the ethics code? Should he or she have to spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on a lawyer (not out of the realm of possibility) to defend that comment before the ethics commission, with all the attendant bad press that would attract?

That is a closer call.

It not only compromises freedom of speech, but the whole idea of having citizen-legislators is so that there will be someone who knows about being an electrician when bills about electricians come up.

We have to be always vigilant for conflicts of interest, but there also has to be some factor for giving officials who were elected by the people in their districts the benefit of the doubt in some instances.

This is why who you vote for is so important.

If there is such pervasive mistrust of the people who are elected on the part of the people who elect them, the system is badly broken. The consent of the governed becomes hopelessly skewed.

The best answer is to elect people we can trust, because at some level you need to trust the people you elect.

Sometimes that trust is misplaced. That is why a vigorous free press is so important to our form of government and it is why we need an Ethics Commission. That is why Sen. Frank Ciccone’s proposal to have the Senate police the actions of its own members doesn’t pass the laugh test.

So House Speaker Gordon Fox’s proposed constitutional amendment bringing the legislative actions of legislators under the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission should go on the ballot and people should vote for it.

But we also have to be careful that the some future Ethics Commission doesn’t try to take its power too far and infringe on the real and important prerogatives that the representatives of the people should have.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves?

That is an important question when you give one unelected panel like the Ethics Commission the power to write laws, enforce and execute those laws, prosecute people for violating those laws, pass judgment on their guilt or innocence, and penalize them with fines or removal from office.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lawrence Lessig to speak on campaign reform

Over 100 people attended our discussion last Wednesday about the Citizens United decision we co-hosted with the Providence Athenaeum. It was a wonderful evening of civil discourse on a matter of tremendous importance for our democracy. Thank you to all who attended and participated.

This week, we are happy to announce that there will be a public lecture by Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School and Fix Congress First! titled "Campaign Reform in the Digital Age." Professor Lessig's talk will examine the repercussions of the Citizens United decision, particularly the prospect for Fair Elections legislation. The talk and discussion will be an great extension of the conversation about the implications of the Supreme Court's decision for our democracy.

If you are able to attend, please RSVP by clicking here and filling out the appropriate information. This talk is being sponsored by the Brown University chapter of Democracy Matters.

Where: List Art Center, Room 120
62-64 Waterman Street
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
(click here for a map)

When: Friday, April 9, 5:00pm

Free and open to the public! Please invite your friends!

Athenaeum Event a Success

Thank you to everyone who attended and participated in the event on March 31st co-hosted with the Providence Athenaeum. We had a wonderful evening discussing the Citizens United decision and the future of our democracy.