Ethics Commission votes to investigate one of two complaints

THE R.I. ETHICS COMMISSION has voted to authorize an investigation into allegations that Gov. Gina M. Raimondo's actions related to the IGT contract extension would benefit Donald Sweitzer, her alleged business associate./ PBN FILE PHOTO/ DAVE HANSEN
THE R.I. ETHICS COMMISSION has voted to authorize an investigation into allegations that Gov. Gina M. Raimondo's actions related to the IGT contract extension would benefit Donald Sweitzer, her alleged business associate./ PBN FILE PHOTO/ DAVE HANSEN

PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Ethics Commission, following its initial review of a complaint filed against Gov. Gina M. Raimondo under two provisions of the R.I. Code of Ethics, voted to investigate one claim and dismiss another, Jason Gramitt, executive director and chief prosecutor of the commission confirmed Tuesday.

Both provisions related to the contract negotiations with International Game Technology PLC to extend the contract that has IGT oversee the state’s lottery program.

The complaints were brought by the Rhode Island Republican Party, according to legal counsel for Raimondo.

The Ethic Commission dismissed a complaint that alleged that the governor violated the code of ethics by allowing the company to enter into a no-bid extension negotiation. This means that the ethics commission found that if the allegation were true, it would not have violated the code of ethics that it was alleged to have broken.

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The commission voted to investigate the second provision, however, finding that if true, it could support a claim that a code of ethics violation occurred. The allegation is that the economic extension financially benefited Donald R. Sweitzer, former IGT chairman and now Democratic Governor’s Association treasurer. Raimondo is chair of the DGA. The allegation named Sweitzer as a business associate of Raimondo’s.

The committee said that if the allegations were true, then it is possible that the code of ethics section 36-14-5(d) would have been violated.

The section read as follows:

“No person subject to this Code of Ethics shall use in any way his or her public office or confidential information received through his or her holding any public office to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for him or herself or any person within his or her family, any business associate, or any business by which the person is employed or which the person represents.”

The commission’s decision to investigate a claim does not reflect the judgment of the commission on the validity of the claim and does not involve any evidence outside of the complaint, nor does it consider counter arguments.

Following the decision, the commission will begin its authorized investigation into the allegations.

The governor’s office referred inquires related to the ethics complaint to an outside legal office.

However, when asked about the public battle between Twin River Worldwide Holdings Inc. and IGT, spokesman Josh Block said, “There are only three companies in the country capable of running Rhode Island’s Lottery, and only one is headquartered in Rhode Island. The proposal announced in June by the governor, speaker and Senate president guarantees 1,100 good-paying jobs, $150 million in direct local investment and continuous upgrades to our gaming technology. This is a big opportunity for Rhode Island, and we look forward to a full public vetting.”

The legal counsel that the governor’s office referred PBN to to discuss issues related to the matter, Jonathan Berkon of Perkins Coie LLP, said” We applaud the Ethics Commission’s decision to throw out one of the two claims filed by the state Republican Party. We are confident that when the Ethics Commission reviews the facts relating to the other claim, it will once again conclude this latest partisan complaint has no merit.”

Following the decision to investigate one of the two complaints, the Rhode Island GOP heralded the decision to investigate one count, comparing Raimondo to previously convicted public officials in Rhode Island.

““In the past, the Ethics Commission has investigated and fined public officials like Gov. Edward DiPrete and House Speaker Gordon Fox when they used their public office to favor their business associates. We hope the Ethics Commission will treat Raimondo the same way they treated DiPrete and Fox.”

The GOP also called on a halt on any legislation related to the contract until the investigation concludes.

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor. You may reach him at Bergenheim@PBN.com.

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