Saturday, May 29, 2010

Judicial nominees list bill is back before R.I. General Assembly

Sunday, May 30, 2010

By Katie Mulvaney

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — A bill that would let the governor choose judicial nominees from lists of finalists generated over the past five years is back again and working its way through the General Assembly.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Leo R. Blais, R-Coventry, won the Senate’s backing last week and now awaits House Judiciary Committee review. If passed, it would extend to June 30, 2011, the governor’s ability to pick potential judges from lists created as far back as 2005.

First passed in 2007, the legislation was proposed this session at Governor Carcieri’s request as a way to save judicial candidates the inconvenience of going through the selection process before the Judicial Nominating Commission more than once.

“Simply because they are not chosen [the first time] does not diminish their qualifications,” said Amy Kempe, the governor’s spokeswoman. The pool of candidates has already been vetted as well-qualified, she said.

The bill, however, is perennially opposed by the government watchdog group Common Cause Rhode Island, which charges that it undermines core concepts of the judicial merit selection by reducing the transparency of the process. Allowing the governor to reach back and choose nominees from the lists created near the start of his term invites mischief and increases the politics involved, according to John Marion, Common Cause executive director.

Further, he said, it might violate the state Constitution, which specifies the governor should choose from “a list.” “This allows the governor to pick from multiple lists,” he said.

Lawyers interested in filling an open seat on the state bench must submit a lengthy application to the Judicial Nominating Commission. Members select which applicants to interview and hold a public hearing in which friends, family and colleagues speak to a candidate’s qualifications. The commission then forwards a list of three to five finalists to the governor.

Before the bill’s enactment, the governor had to select from only the list created by the Judicial Nominating Commission for a given position.

A hearing date before the House Judiciary Committee has not been set. A House version was held for further study last month. There are three Superior Court vacancies and two openings in District Court.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Placing ethics panel issue on ballot advances

Providence Journal

Thursday, May 27, 2010

By Katherine Gregg

Journal State House Bureau

PROVIDENCE — Voters would get their chance to reinstate the Ethics Commission’s power to investigate and prosecute state legislators under legislation that won the approval of a key House committee on Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Gordon D. Fox early in the 2010 legislative session when he was still House majority leader, cleared the House Judiciary Committee without any audible dissent two months after a rocky March hearing at which several freshmen legislators voiced umbrage at the notion of having an “unelected body” looking over their shoulders.

“I’ve been here a year and a half now,” said freshman Rep. Scott Pollard, D-Foster, at that March 23 hearing. “There aren’t any corrupt people in the building … And if you do know them to be corrupt, then I suggest that you call the attorney general’s office and seek [to have] them prosecuted.”

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, also voiced concerns about giving the Ethics Commission “virtually limitless authority to decide what constitutes a conflict of interest or ethical misconduct when it comes to both legislators’ votes and their participation in the legislative process.”

He repeated those concerns Wednesday during a hearing on a matching Senate version of the bill, at which Sen. John Tassoni, D-Smithfield, voiced his concern about the way the Ethics Commission is currently constructed as “a judge, jury and executioner.”

But a parade of candidates for high office have joined the citizens’ advocacy groups Common Cause, Operation Clean Government and the League of Women Voters to urge passage of the legislation. It would place legislators under the same Ethics Commission scrutiny that applies to every other elected official in Rhode Island, from the governor to the members of each local school board, zoning board and town council.

And Common Cause Executive Director John Marion told the lawmakers the proposal is not aimed at giving the nine-member Ethics Commission any more power than it had during its first two decades. He said 37 other states allow ethics oversight of their legislators.

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote, and then the Senate where Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors again Wednesday questioned the need for any action, and said: “If a member of the Assembly were doing something illegal, they could be prosecuted right now in the U.S. District Court by the U.S. Attorney and be subject to penalties for violating the law like any other citizen.”

And two of the House Judiciary Committee members who voted for the Fox bill said they did so with reservations, hoping House leaders will back an amendment to shore up the “speech-in-debate” protection that insulates legislators from being sued for what they say.

Fox’s legislation was prompted by a June decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court that dismissed ethics charges pending against former Senate President William V. Irons based on a novel reading of the state’s “speech in debate clause.”

Irons had been accused of using his public office to obtain financial gain for pharmacy giant CVS — a “business associate” — while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance commissions from Blue Cross on a health-insurance policy for CVS employees in Rhode Island.

Irons’ lawyer argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that the “speech in debate clause” insulates lawmakers from Ethics Commission scrutiny for any “core legislative act,” including “proposing, passing or voting upon a particular piece of legislation.”

In his dissent, Chief Justice Paul Suttell, a former member of the House of Representatives, cited the litany of scandals that led to the 1986 voter-mandated creation of the Ethics Commission, and said “a page of history is worth a volume of logic.”

On Wednesday, two Democratic candidates for attorney general added their voices to the chorus urging passage: state Rep. Peter Kilmartin, D-Pawtucket and Smithfield Councilman Stephen R. Archambault.

Archambault said: “Members of the General Assembly should be subject to the same Ethics Commission oversight as the rest of our state’s public officials. It is essential to rebuilding the public trust.”

Added Kilmartin: “Legislators working honestly on behalf of Rhode Islanders do not need a legal loophole to act as a shield. The proposed constitutional amendment will rightfully allow those who do not act honorably, ethically and legally to be prosecuted.”

The lawmakers are still filing their annual financial disclosure statements with the commission, so “there is still a significant measure of oversight that the Ethics Commission performs over the Assembly,” said Connors, hailing the filings as “the most important resource that the public has to sniff out any impure motives.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Taxpayers deserve accountability for their $52,927

Providence Journal

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

By Edward Fitzpatrick

You’ve heard of Joe the Plumber, right? Well, here in Rhode Island we have Joe the Constituent Liaison.

Attention is focusing on the fact that Joseph S. Burchfield, the former North Providence Town Council president, faces extortion and bribery charges, accused of joining two other councilmen in pocketing a $25,000 bribe. But it’s also worth noting that Burchfield has been working for the state Senate as a “constituent liaison.” While he’s on unpaid administrative leave now, he had been making $52,927 a year.

And that’s a figure worth keeping in mind as legislators decide whether to pass bills requiring that House and Senate floor votes, and committee votes, be posted on the legislature’s Web site in an easily accessible format.

At a time when elected officials and candidates bombard us with PR via Twitter and Facebook, there’s no excuse for not giving us a simple way to access vital information on how legislators voted on issues we care about. But you’ve already begun to hear the excuses taking shape on Smith Hill: It’s a tough year; we’d love to pass these bills but we’re not sure we can afford it; you understand, right?

Actually, no. Not when legislators are voting on crucial issues such as closing the state budget gap or closing the student achievement gap, enacting pension reform or an updated school-funding formula, deciding the future of a wind turbine project or the future of the bankrupt Twin River slot parlor.

And not when we’re spending $52,927 a year in taxpayer money for the likes of Joe the Constituent Liaison.

True constituent service would involve putting floor votes and committee votes into an easy-to-search format. While online House and Senate journals already include daily floor votes, curious citizens must know the date of the vote and scroll through a lengthy document. And about the only way to get a recent committee vote is go to the State House and track down a committee clerk.

Some state legislators want to follow Arizona’s example when it comes to cracking down on illegal immigration, but we’ll see if they also follow Arizona’s lead when it comes to public information. The Arizona legislature’s Web site not only gives you easy access to floor and committee votes on the controversial immigration bill, you can also see video of committee and floor discussions of the bill.

“We are so far behind in some respects,” said John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island.

For example, Rhode Island is the only state that does not stream audio or video of legislative floor debates, Marion said. And we have the most cumbersome process for monitoring legislative votes online, he said, explaining that unlike other states, Rhode Island posts floor votes in PDF documents, which must be downloaded and cannot be quickly searched online.

Marion took note of one Byzantine twist to Senate journals: A “legislative day” can include multiple calendar days, so in February one of the Senate’s legislative days lasted two weeks, meaning it took 14 days for the Senate Journal to reflect votes from that legislative day.

Marion said the Assembly could post committee votes online without spending any money. “We’ll call that the Hyundai version,” he said.

And while the Assembly would have to spend some money to post floor votes in a more easily accessible format, Marion said, “For the price of one constituent liaison, you could likely have the Cadillac of legislative Web sites.”

Several bills require R.I. General Assembly votes to be posted online

Providence Journal

By Randal Edgar

Journal State House Bureau

Their sessions are on cable TV, they have individual pages on the state Web site and the bills they sponsor can be found online. But a perceived lack of openness with regard to how state lawmakers actually vote is prompting a flurry of bills this year that would require the General Assembly to post those votes online.

No less than six bills have been submitted in recent weeks. Some, like a bill sponsored by Rep. David A. Segal, D-Providence, would require all floor votes to be posted on the Assembly Web site. Others, like a bill sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, would require all roll-call committee votes to be posted on the Web site.

The idea has support from groups such as Common Cause Rhode Island, the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, Operation Open Government and the Rhode Island Tea Party.

“This is about easy access,” Greta L. Abbott, a lobbyist for the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, told the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. “Most important, this is about accountability.”

As Abbott and others noted, House and Senate floor votes can be found online, but only in PDF documents that summarize one or more days of House or Senate floor activity. For Rhode Islanders who want to see what their lawmakers are up to, it can be days and weeks before those votes show up online, said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. And when they do show up, it’s not in the most user-friendly format.

“Those journals aren’t easy to search through,” he said.

By contrast, more than a dozen states post roll-call votes to the Internet in real time, and others post them in a searchable format, Marion said, citing a 2008 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Committee votes are a different issue. Unlike floor votes in the Rhode Island Assembly, committee votes are not posted online, though they are recorded by clerks and compiled at the state library.

Marion also noted that Rhode Island, according to the NCLS report, is the only state that does not broadcast live video or audio of House and Senate sessions over the Internet.

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox said Wednesday that he is looking at possible changes.

“We are reviewing the legislation and checking to see what the additional costs would be … to upgrade our legislative Web site,” he said in a statement.

There was no response from the Senate leadership, but Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis, D-Coventry, sponsor of two Senate bills that call for votes to be posted online, said the costs would be minimal. He pointed to New Hampshire’s Web site, which allows viewers to select a lawmaker and view all of his or her votes for a given year.

“People should know how their state representative or state senator voted as quickly as possible,” he said.

In all, there are three bills before the House Finance Committee and three before the Senate Constitutional and Regulatory Issues Committee. All were held for further study last week.

Ruggiero told the House Finance Committee that her bill, which would require all roll-call committee votes to be posted online, is not perfect but would be a step in the right direction.

“Right now there is not a way for our constituents to see how committee votes are taken,” she said. “We want to make sure that we have good clean government and certainly transparency. That’s really the intent of this.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Providence Journal editorial supports Maine fair elections sytem

Editorial: Maine’s $5 election plan

01:00 AM EDT on Monday, May 24, 2010

It’s a bit cumbersome, especially at the start of someone’s campaign, but Maine’s “clean elections” law is making politics there more widely reflect the general will of the public, as opposed to that of special interests.

The system, described in a March 27 Boston Globe story “Maine blazes path in funding,” by Sasha Issenberg, involves having citizens wanting this or that candidate pay $5 to a state government fund set up for candidates.

Candidates for governor who reach a goal of $16,250, from 3,250 in individual contributions (cash, check or money order), can then ultimately, depending on their success in the primary elections, become eligible for from $400,000 to as much as $1.8 million in public funds. It’s a stepped process from primary to general election. Once candidates get those funds, they aren’t supposed to take money from other, private donors.

Ms. Issenberg reports that since it can be time-consuming and otherwise difficult to raise all those small individual amounts, candidates are allowed to finance those fund-raising campaigns by “collecting up to $200,000 in ‘seed money’ from contributions of $100 or less but have to shut down such accounts at the time they qualify for public money.”

Many of these contributions are raised at candidates’ speaking events, where they ask people to each pay $5 into the aforementioned account.

The system creates a sense of admirable civic engagement — it reminds people that anyone can be a “campaign contributor” and encourages candidates, if they reach the minimum of $16,250 to qualify, to spend more time on issues rather than on asking people for money. Other states should watch the Maine experience carefully.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

R.I. Senate committee delays vote on wind-farm special exemption bill

Providence Journal

01:00 AM EDT on Friday, May 14, 2010

By Alex Kuffner

Journal Staff Writer

A state Senate committee has again postponed voting on legislation that would benefit an offshore wind developer as the panel awaits amendments to the controversial bill.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture was set to vote Thursday on legislation that would allow Deepwater Wind LLC to enter into an agreement for the sale of electricity from its proposed eight-turbine wind farm near Block Island without first getting approval from the state Public Utilities Commission. It is the second delay for a decision on the bill after the cancellation of a vote Tuesday. No new date has been scheduled.

During the committee meeting Tuesday, its chairwoman, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, said she was awaiting changes to the bill that were made after a hearing last week in which a host of individuals and groups questioned why the General Assembly would allow a private company to avoid review by the PUC and, instead, place consideration of a long-term power-purchase agreement in the hands of four other state agencies.

At another hearing before the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources later on Tuesday, Governor Carcieri, a supporter of the legislation, said that possible amendments being discussed include the addition of an appeal process.

The legislation was proposed after the PUC voted in March to reject a 20-year contract between Deepwater and National Grid, the state’s main electricity utility, with the panel’s three members all concluding that the starting price of 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour was not “commercially reasonable.” The current price for power from conventional sources is 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Deepwater did not appeal the decision — a potentially lengthy endeavor — because it needs a contract in place soon to place orders for its turbines and qualify for federal tax credits that will expire at the end of the year. Instead, the company is seeking to circumvent the PUC altogether.

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, a candidate to replace Carcieri in the governor’s office, has supported the PUC and objected to the legislation. So has the Conservation Law Foundation, which backs Deepwater’s wind farm but is against any change in the regulatory process to benefit a single company.

“[The legislation] provides no criteria for review of the contract between [National] Grid and Deepwater; no mechanism for translating realized cost savings into rates; no evidentiary hearings; no appeal; and creates only the appearance of process by suggesting that the contract would have to be approved by four administrative agency heads,” Tricia Jedele, director of CLF’s Rhode Island Advocacy Center, wrote in a May 12 letter to House and Senate members.

Also this week, government watchdogs Operation Clean Government and Common Cause Rhode Island came out in opposition to the bill.

“This bill is not a responsible reaction to an unfavorable decision of a regulatory agency,” Larry Valencia, president of Operation Clean Government said in a statement. “Creating public policy by subverting established processes is not healthy for democratic government.”

Vote on Deepwater-PUC bill is postponed

Providence Business News

Published online May 13, 2010


Vote on Deepwater-PUC bill is postponed

By Chris Barrett
PBN Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE – A Senate committee has called off a hearing originally scheduled for Thursday when it was expected the panel would vote on a bill that could kickstart development of a proposed offshore wind farm.

“The bill just isn’t ready,” Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, told Providence Business News on Thursday afternoon. A new date for the hearing has not been scheduled yet, she said.

Sosnowski, who introduced the bill, said lawmakers and their staffers were still drafting amendments to the bill, which would allow four state agencies – instead of the R.I. Public Utilities Commission – to sign off on a power-purchase agreement between wind farm developer Deepwater Wind LLC and National Grid Plc.

The PUC rejected a draft contract between the two sides in March after commissioners decided the projected price of electricity from the project – 24.4 cents a kilowatt-hour – was too high.

The legislation to bypass the PUC has the backing of Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, who has testified before committees in both chambers of the General Assembly to express his support for the measure.

Not everyone supports the bill, however. Two good-government groups – Common Cause and Operation Clean Government – have come out against it, calling the bill an “unprecedented change in established process,” and R.I. Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch has repeatedly urged the General Assembly to reject the measure.

Despite the opposition, Sosnowski said the bill would “definitely” move forward in her committee.

Senate panel sets vote on Deepwater bill

Providence Business News

Published online May 12, 2010

Senate panel sets vote on Deepwater bill

By Chris Barrett

PBN Staff Writer

DEEPWATER WIND wants to install up to eight wind turbines off Block Island by 2012, followed by a 106-turbine farm in Rhode Island Sound in 2015.

PROVIDENCE – A Senate committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on a bill that could jumpstart the offshore wind farm Deepwater Wind LLC wants to build off Block Island.

The bill would allow the heads of four state agencies to sign off on a power-purchase agreement between Deepwater and National Grid Plc. In March, the R.I. Public Utilities Commission rejected a proposed contract between the two, saying the projected wholesale price of the wind farm’s electricity, 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, was too high.

On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee voted to delay a hearing scheduled for that day in order to give legislative staffers more time to draft amendments requested by its chair, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown.

Sosnowski told Providence Business News on Wednesday that she wanted to amend her bill to clarify the process the four agency heads would take before approving the bill. She also wanted to add a cap on the price of electricity for Block Island customers, which was requested by the island’s top elected official, First Warden Kim Gaffett.

Currently, Block Island generates power from diesel generators and has no connection to the mainland electric grid. One component of the wind farm project would involve installing a transmission cable between the mainland and the island.

Sosnowski said her committee also wanted to see what happened at a House committee hearing on the bill Tuesday. Gov. Donald L. Carcieri emphasized his strong support of the bill at that hearing, just as he did last week before Sosnowski’s Senate committee.

“As I said last week, passage of this legislation in a timely manner is critically important to ensuring that Rhode Island will continue to be a leader in developing an offshore wind industry,” Carcieri said in prepared remarks. “We are poised on the brink of great opportunity and must act now to seize that opportunity.”

Not everyone agrees. On Tuesday, two good-government groups – Common Cause and Operation Clean Government – came out against the bill, calling it an “unprecedented change in established process,” and R.I. Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch has repeatedly urged the General Assembly to reject it.

In a statement, Lynch, who is running for governor, described the wind farm as “a special deal for the developers that will be bad for Rhode Island consumers” and, referring to the PUC, called the bill “an end run around an unfavorable decision from an independent, impartial and apolitical tribunal.”

In a letter to Sosnowski released Tuesday, Lynch thanked her for postponing the Senate committee’s vote on the bill. He also proposed revising the guidelines for the PUC’s review process or, alternatively, having a different body such as the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board review the project.

“One factor that I believe is key to creating a viable alternative to the existing PUC procedures … is an appeal process that would keep the underlying proceeding and decision open and fair,” Lynch wrote. “This could be accomplished by providing our traditional Administrative Procedures Act review or by allowing automatic review by Petition for Certiorari to the [R.I.] Supreme Court from the agency’s final decision.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why we are speaking out about the wind farm process

I am writing you today to explain why Common Cause Rhode Island has decided to oppose the newly revised process for approving the small wind farm off of Block Island found in bills H 8083 and S 2819. As you know, Common Cause is neither an energy nor an environmental group. We do not take a position on whether the wind farm should be built--in fact many of our members likely believe that we need to move to alternative forms of energy. What we do stand for is good government, as reflected in good process, and this bill is anathema to that concept.

You all know that for 15 years Common Cause has been closely associated with the Separation of Powers movement here in Rhode Island. That movement culminated in a series of changes to the state Constitution in 2004 removing legislators from executive boards and commissions. The logic behind that most significant change was that legislators should create processes and policies, and executives should carry them out. We feel that the current attempt by the Governor and legislature to bypass the Public Utilities Commission undermines the 15 years of work by Common Cause and others on the issue of Separation of Powers.

This legislation represents an attempt to make a policy change, ex post facto, by circumventing a historically important independent regulatory body. It substitutes a process that is much less independent, and has limited opportunity for appeal. The legislatures' judgment is being substituted for that of the experts charged with evaluating the proposal. This is abhorrent to the concept of Separation of Powers.

Perhaps most troubling is the precedent this sets for the future. Instead of an appeal, or a reevaluation of the criteria by which projects such as these are judged, the response to an adverse outcome in this instance has been to circumvent the process altogether, but only for this particular project. Where, we ask, will this behavior on the part of our elected officials end? What outcomes will they respect?

Common Cause has been a voice on the process of government for four decades in Rhode Island. We will continue to point out, when appropriate, instances where our elected officials disrespect the correct processes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A return to a status quo that served Rhode Island well

Providence Journal

A return to a status quo that served Rhode Island well

Saturday, May 1, 2010


As the debate about what to do in the wake of the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s June 2009 decision in William V. Irons v. The Rhode Island Ethics Commission begins in earnest in the General Assembly, some misperceptions (and mischaracterizations) have arisen. As the group that began the initiative to counter that decision, Common Cause would like to set the record straight.

In July 2009 we drafted, with input from Operation Clean Government, language that in our view would restore the General Assembly to the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission for their “core legislative acts” such as voting.

In the majority’s opinion, the court suggested such an action could be taken, as long as it was, in the court’s words, “sufficiently explicit.” In February 2010, then-Majority Leader and now House Speaker Gordon Fox agreed to sponsor our language after we agreed to add four words to our proposal — “by the ethics commission” — to the sentence “For any speech in debate in either house, no member shall be questioned in any other place, except by the ethics commission as set forth in Article III, section 8 of this Constitution.”

We feel our language is both sufficiently explicit to achieve the desired purpose, but de minimusso as to limit any unintended consequences.

Nonetheless, foes of our proposal in the General Assembly have sought to mischaracterize it. Some have said that it would expand the power of the Ethics Commission. Others have said it would chill the speech of legislators. It has even been called a “radical” proposal. None of these statements are true.

It is not our desire to radically alter the role of the Ethics Commission. Common Cause has a simple goal: to restore the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission to what it was in 1987-2008.

If our proposal passes the legislature and is approved by a majority of voters in November, then we’ll simply be turning back the clock two years. If you think the General Assembly was not able to function freely, and the commission’s prosecutions of John Celona and William Irons were misguided, then by all means do not support our proposal.

Some believe our proposal would let the Ethics Commission interfere too much with the legislative process. Solid safeguards are already in place to prevent overreaching by the Ethics Commission. The regulations enacted by the Ethics Commission are subject to the same judicial review as are the actions of any governmental body. And given the strict scrutiny applied to any policy that infringes on freedom of speech, surely any that might be enacted that conflict with the Bill of Rights would be overturned.

It’s important to step back and realize that under our proposal members of the General Assembly still enjoy protection against criminal and other civil prosecution for their “speech in debate.”

Furthermore, the commission itself will only be overseeing the “core legislative acts” of legislators for violations of the Code of Ethics. That code, originally written by the legislature, is almost exclusively concerned with financial conflicts of interest, largely found in Sections 5(a) and 5(d) of the Code of Ethics.

The Ethics Commission is not in the business of judging the content of speech.

Another mischaracterization is that our proposed amendment would limit the role of the judicial branch. We do not seek to prevent people from appealing the decisions of the Ethics Commission to the Superior Court.

If our language passes, that right will still exist for those subject to the Code of Ethics. Our language does seek to clarify that the Ethics Commission, like many quasi-legislative bodies, has the right to hear cases. This is a well-established principle under the public-rights doctrine recognized by state and federal courts.

We do not take umbrage with those who say that the Ethics Commission is a unique body. But its uniqueness is derived from the will of the majority of Rhode Islanders who ratified the proposal of the 1986 Constitutional Convention. The delegates and the people who supported their work wanted an independent body to govern the ethics of all public officials. The independent nature of our ethics watchdog makes Rhode Island a model for America.

Keep in mind that even in independence, elected officials make all the appointments to the commission, and set the level of fines the commission can dole out.

Our proposed amendment is about reinstating a very limited part of the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission as it applies to only 113 of the many hundreds of public officials in Rhode Island. Currently the 39 legislative bodies that govern our cities and towns are subject to the Code of Ethics, and it has had no chilling effect on the speech and debate in those bodies. Nor was there a chill when the commission had jurisdiction over the General Assembly for 21 years.

Our less-than-radical proposal is being supported by Governor Carcieri, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis and General Treasurer Frank Caprio — two of whom (Roberts and Caprio) previously served in the General Assembly, and one of whom (Carcieri) has been fined (four times) by the Ethics Commission.

When you hear someone arguing that our proposal is a radical solution, we hope you consider some of what you’ve read here. Do not let opponents lead you down the garden path with their ideas about how this proposal does anything but return us to the status quo that existed in 1987-2008.

John Marion is executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island.