Providence City Council hires House insider as lobbyist

Providence City Council chambers. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – One of Rhode Island’s most well-known political operatives has been hired by the Providence City Council.

Jeff Britt, who helped House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello win a tight re-election race in Cranston last November, will represent the council’s interests at the State House this year, according to Council President Luis Aponte.

The City Council approved a resolution Thursday authorizing Aponte to spend $25,000 on legislative advocacy on behalf of the council. Britt was not specifically named in the resolution, but he attended the meeting and was congratulated by several members of the council following the vote.

“Those of us who have spent time up there in the General Assembly realize that Providence is often the whipping boy for what ails our state,” Aponte, a Democrat, said during a recent Council Finance Committee meeting. “We’ve done so much to change the way that we’re viewed there. Our story is not told as well, as often and as loudly as perhaps it should in the halls of Smith Hill.”

The decision by the council to hire a lobbyist is a peculiar one because the Elorza administration already pays Government Strategies, Inc. $3,000 per month to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the city. A spokesperson for the mayor confirmed the administration also attempted to hire Britt, but he ultimately chose to work for the council.

In Rhode Island politics, Britt, 48, is known as a good friend to have and an even worse enemy.

A former investment banker, he has twice led campaigns against sitting House speakers, first running his step-father Bruce Bayuk’s write-in campaign against John Harwood in 2002 and later running independent Mark Binder’s campaign against Gordon Fox in 2012. Both challengers came up short, but not before the incumbents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep their seats.

In 2004, while working as a liaison between Republican Gov. Don Carcieri and Democrats in the House, Britt played a behind-the-scenes role in helping block then-Speaker William Murphy’s leadership team from securing the necessary votes to pass the budget. He later worked on Democrat Frank Caprio’s campaign unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2010 and Republican Ken Block’s failed bid for governor in 2014.

Now he’s back on the inside.

Britt forged a relationship with Mattiello last year and ultimately served as a paid staffer on the speaker’s re-election bid. Filings with the R.I. Board of Elections show Britt’s firm, Strategic Consulting Solutions, was paid nearly $62,000 by Mattiello, his leadership PAC, Rep. Anastasia Williams and the Providence firefighters’ union PAC in 2016. (He is also credited with helping Williams hold on to her seat when she faced a tough Democratic primary challenge.)

In 2016, Britt was a registered lobbyist for a Colorado-based medical marijuana company and Moelis & Company, a New York-based investment bank that expressed interest in a transaction involving Providence’s water supply. Spokespeople for both Elorza and Gov. Gina Raimondo confirmed city and state officials held informal meetings with company officials in 2016. This year, Britt is registered as a lobbyist for RIMARC, a company seeking to operate a compassion center.

Aponte said part of the idea for hiring Britt stems from Providence’s loss of “significant seniority” at the State House, referring to the election defeats of former House Majority Leader John DeSimone and longtime Sen. Juan Pichardo. Rep. John Carnevale, who decided to not seek re-election following a residency scandal, was a co-chair of the Providence delegation.

“This year promises to be a difficult one, but it is an opportunity to begin to alter the perception of Providence and how it functions,” Aponte said.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan