January 18, 2012

"It's Legal" Doesn't Make It Right

Patrick Laverty

Two stories in the Providence Journal lately have me lamenting more of the same in Rhode Island. More of lack of strong leadership and more disregard for the people and the spirit of law.

Last Thursday, they reported that Senators Paiva-Weed, Ruggerio and Goodwin were invited to the Senate Presidents Forum in Key West. The RI Senate President was invited in order to speak about the RI pension reform bill that recently passed. Additionally, the conference paid for a portion of the costs. The other portion, thankfully, was not paid by taxpayers but instead by the campaign account of Senator Paiva-Weed.

Apparently, this is legal:

(b)(4) Travel expenses for an officeholder, provided that the travel is undertaken as an ordinary and necessary expense of seeking, holding, or maintaining public office, or seeking, holding, or maintaining a position within the legislature or other publicly elected body. If a candidate or officeholder uses campaign funds to pay expenses associated with travel that involves both personal activities and campaign or officeholder activities, the incremental expenses that result from the personal activities are personal use, unless the person(s) benefiting from this use reimburse(s) the campaign account within thirty (30) days for the amount of the incremental expenses;
Was this trip a part of their holding the office? Yes. However, I do wonder if the senators would have no problem with looking a donor in the eye and explaining to them that their $20 donation could go toward the Senator's trip to Key West. How many donors think of it that way? I'm guessing they more think their money is going toward yard signs or newspaper advertising or any of the other various expenses that come up in the course of a campaign. I doubt many think "Sure, I'll give this senator my money so they can go on a trip to Key West, Florida."

Also in the Journal was an article about various lobbyists who purchased advertising space in newspapers owned by State Senator John Tassoni. Apparently, most of the lobbyists who made this purchase did not report this expenditure by the required deadline. When Sen. Tassoni was asked about this, he said

“It’s not my responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the people that buy the ads to fill out the proper documents.”
Which is true, it's not his responsibility to fill out forms for the state or disclose that information, it's the lobbyists' job. However, a state senator should be interested in good government and transparent government. If something isn't right that is related to a business that he owns, he should be ready to step up and take a stronger stand against the lobbyists that aren't adhering to the state's expenditure laws, and not simply wave his hands and claim "Not my fault."

In both of these cases, while no senator has done anything illegal, they just don't really pass the smell test. Neither one really feels right, neither one feels like the senators are showing leadership and promoting good government and representation in Rhode Island. That is something that the state still needs a lot more of.

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These things are just the bread and butter of politics in Rhode Island. All the major politicians have slush funds with minimal or no oversight, and everyone is involved in everyone's business, especially when it is grossly unethical. Or do you think they're actually the ones paying for their $50 lunches at Hemenway's and Capital Grille every day? It's common knowledge that a sizeable portion of the attorney general jobs are "sold" each election through campaign contributions - lots of familiar last names on that payroll. Look at the lists of appointed judges each year in the Providence Journal - you won't see anybody from above a third tier law school, all local to Providence or Boston, and all with maxed out campaign contributions to high ranking members of the Democratic Party. You have two options if you want to make it in RI: play the game and play it well, or move to an honest state and succeed on your merits.

Posted by: Dan at January 19, 2012 9:06 AM

Carcieri went to Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan while in office. Wonder who paid for that? Hmm, should I search to find the outraged post over here about that? Oh, forgot. That's just the rule for Democrats.

Posted by: Russ at January 19, 2012 12:50 PM

Russ, I'm new here. I wasn't writing when Carcieri was governor. If he traveled to those places using campaign funds, I'd criticize that too. Since you're familiar with the Governor's travels, did he use campaign funds for those trips, or did he pay it out of his pocket?

Plus, what was the purpose of the trips? To help morale of RI soldiers or was it to give a "Look how great I am" speech?

Posted by: Patrick at January 19, 2012 1:00 PM

Russ trots out the tired old "But Carcieri..." line yet again. How many times do we have to go over this: hypocrisy is not a policy argument.

And did Russ really just compare an official visit to U.S. warzones with taking a trip to Key West, Florida for a nonprofit forum?

Posted by: Dan at January 19, 2012 1:06 PM

I couldn't find anything on who paid for Carcieri's world tour (I'm assuming taxpayers got stuck with that bill). You folks may remember the chaos that ensued under his watch...


A nontaxpayer funded trip to Florida that wasn't some kind of special interest boondoggle? Who cares!

Posted by: Russ at January 19, 2012 1:40 PM

While you're on a roll Russ, how does the Tassoni situation sit. He's publishing a paper for union news in which not only lobbyists are paying for space but so are the public and private sector unions. Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't believe the unions are required to report those purchases unless they are made through a lobbyist but it certainly makes for a nice influential cash flow.

Posted by: Max D at January 19, 2012 2:01 PM

If Carcieri was visiting RI National Guard or Reserve units,what's the f**kin' problem?That is certainly in the Governor's wheelhouse.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 19, 2012 3:13 PM
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