PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Ethics Commission will not investigate a state Republican Party complaint accusing Gov. Gina Raimondo of entering into a financial transaction with one her subordinates.
The commission voted 5-1 to dismiss the complaint. Three commission members, M. Therese Antone, John Lynch Jr. and Arianne Corrente, were absent.
The complaint was filed by state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell after Eyewitness News reported that Raimondo’s re-election campaign entered into a “mutual support agreement” with the Providence Democratic City Committee, whose chairman at the time was Patrick Ward, an employee for the R.I. Department of Human Services. Ward has since resigned as chair after apologizing for posting a derogatory meme about two Providence city councilmen on Facebook.
The commission determined that Ward is not a subordinate of the governor because he is an employee at DHS, not in the governor’s office. The commission cited a previous ruling involving former Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri, who was accused of a similar ethics violation for sending letters seeking campaign donations to employees of various state agencies in 2006. In that case, the commission determined that department heads would be considered subordinates of the governor. Ward is not a department head.
The commission also found that the fundraising agreement was between the governor’s campaign and the city committee, not Ward individually.
Bell claimed the commission ignored the fact that the agreement specifically allowed Ward to spend money raised on the committee’s behalf and suggested the term ‘subordinate’ was interpreted narrowly.
“By its decision today, the Ethics Commission is saying Governor Raimondo can enter into a secret financial deal with a state employee as long as (1) the deal states it is with a group the state employee controls rather than the employee himself, and (2) the state employee answers to her appointee instead of her,” Bell said in a prepared statement. “We do not think these technicalities make Governor Raimondo’s conduct somehow ethical.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s campaign attacked the fundraising agreement in an email to supporters shortly before the commission’s vote, calling it “an attempt to bypass campaign laws and give the governor an advantage in the upcoming race.” The Fung campaign also posted a video quoting pundits critical of the move.
In a statement, Raimondo’s criticized Fung and the Republicans.
“Instead of working to prevent mass shootings, Allan Fung and the Republicans have been focused on distracting Rhode Islanders with a phony ethics complaint that represents politics at its worst,” deputy campaign manager David Ortiz said. “By refusing to answer questions about important issues while spending his time misleading Rhode Islanders, Fung proves every day he’s not a real leader.”
This report will be updated.