In the wake of corruption charges against former House Speaker Gordon Fox, Common Cause Rhode Island is calling on the General Assembly to allow the ethics commission to oversee legislators, which currently it does not, and to impose audits on campaign accounts.
“We know there are several simple, immediate actions that can be taken to help hold our public officials more accountable,” Marion said.
Marion noted that in 2003 Fox was fined $10,000 by the state ethics commission for taking on GTech as a lawyer as he was working on a bill to move the business to Providence as a legislator. A 2009 state Supreme Court decision famously exempted legislators from being investigated by the ethics commission, and Common Cause has been advocating to restore their power over legislators ever since.
“When legislators feel there are no repercussions for the smaller stuff, the bigger stuff will eventually take over,” Marion said.
There could be political reasons the House won’t take up the ethics bill this session. Its sponsor is Rep. Mike Marcello, of Smithfield, who challenged Rep. Nick Mattiello as speaker. The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Ed O’Neill, and independent from North Smithfield, Lincoln. The bill would put the question to the voters of Rhode Island.
Marion also said Fox’s plea today should inspire legislators to require some sort of campaign finance auditing. “Whether random or a percentage, we’ll look at other states and see what they do,” Marion said. “I do know other states routinely look at them.”