RI GOP wants Ethics Commission to probe agreement between Gov. Raimondo and Providence Democrats

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Republican Party has asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate a fundraising agreement between Gov. Gina Raimondo’s re-election campaign and the Providence Democratic City Committee, which until Friday was chaired by a state employee.

In a complaint filed Monday, state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell accused Raimondo of violating a provision in the state code of ethics that largely prohibits government officials from entering into financial transactions with their subordinates.

Bell’s filing noted the governor’s campaign reached an agreement with Patrick Ward, an employee with the R.I. Department of Human Services who served as chairman of the Providence Democrats until Friday, when he resigned amid criticism of a derogatory meme he posted on Facebook about two City Council members.

“Governor Raimondo made the unusual decision to enter into an agreement with a local party committee, whose chairman was a subordinate state employee over whom she has control,” the complaint states. “Furthermore, the agreement was approved under secretive circumstances. There was nothing ‘normal’ or ‘regular’ about this financial transaction between Raimondo’s campaign and Ward’s Providence Democratic City Committee.”

Raimondo’s campaign and the Providence Democrats have declined to release a copy of the agreement, but both sides acknowledged it was designed to help the local committee raise money and hire staff heading into campaign season. It’s unclear if the agreement will remain in place now that Ward has resigned as the chairman.

David Ortiz, a spokesperson for Raimondo, said the agreement “is between a campaign and a party, not individuals.”

“Both parties routinely enter into such party building agreements, as the Republicans well know,” Ortiz said. “The Republicans and a shadowy organizations called State Solutions Inc. have been running attack ads against the governor for months. Are they going to publicly release those agreements?”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, has reported that State Solutions Inc. is a nonprofit affiliated with the Republican Governors Association.

The Ethics Commission will now consider whether it intends to initiate an investigation into the complaint. The investigations can take up to six months. The commission has the ability to fine violators of the state code of ethics up to $25,000.

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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