Raimondo faces continued criticism over fundraising pact with city Dems

Patrick Ward (left) and Gov. Gina Raimondo (right).

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo is still facing criticism over a fundraising agreement between her re-election campaign and the Providence Democratic City Committee nearly a month after it first came to light.

Eyewitness News revealed Feb. 5 that Raimondo’s campaign had entered into a “mutual support agreement” with the Providence Democrats, whose chairman at the time was Patrick Ward, an employee in 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.)

Earlier this week, the R.I. Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint brought by the Rhode Island Republican Party over the governor entering into a financial transaction involving a state employee. The panel determined that Ward is not technically a subordinate of the governor because he is an employee at DHS, not in the governor’s office.

The Providence Journal’s editorial board, which endorsed Raimondo in 2014, blasted the commission’s ruling in an article on Thursday, saying the panel was “increasingly acting far more like a lapdog than a watchdog.”

“It is frightening to imagine the high jinks in state government that this dubious decision by the oxymoronic Rhode Island Ethics Commission could unleash,” the editorial board, led by Ed Achorn, wrote.

Ross Cheit, a Brown University professor who has chaired the Ethics Commission since 2011, responded on Twitter:

Republicans also sought to keep the issue alive Thursday. The Republican Governors Association blasted a news release calling attention to the Journal editorial, and the state GOP announced it has requested public records related to Ward’s hiring and the fundraising agreement.

“It is not appropriate for Governor Raimondo to have entered into a secret financial deal with a state employee her administration recently hired,” Brandon Bell, the party’s chairman, said in a statement. “It should make no difference whether this state employee directly reports to her or to her appointee at DHS.”

There was no comment from Raimondo’s campaign Thursday, but earlier in the week a spokesman described the GOP’s efforts as “a phony ethics complaint.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Dan McGowan contributed to this report.