Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

In the States

Magazine article Common Cause Magazine

In the States

Article excerpt

RHODE ISLAND ISSUES AN SOS

Rhode Islanders will remember 1991 as a banner year for scandal.

It began with the collapse of the state-wide banking system in January and continued with Pawtucket's mayor pleading guilty to shaking down contractors for campaign contributions, a state Supreme Court justice resigning in disgrace, a judge cited for accepting loans from lawyers with cases before his court, and a former governor fined by the state ethics commission for steering contracts to political donors and friends.

"The conflicts of interest were blatant and many," says Phil West, executive director of CC/Rhode Island, which ended the year by pulling together business, community and religious leaders in a fight for reform. In December the coalition, called RIght Now!, staged its debut with a rally at the statehouse. Amid banners, buttons and bells, coalition chair and Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld claimed, "We've been a silent majority. For once, let's get our act together and show [the legislature] that the people mean something."

The coalition has proposed a comprehensive ethics/campaign finance reform package that institutes a one-year waiting period for legislators who seek state jobs after leaving office; prohibits public officials from using their office to create financial gain for relatives; reduces the state ethics commission from 15 members to seven and streamlines its procedures; prohibits personal use of campaign funds; bans honoraria for elected officials; prohibits corporate campaign contributions; and improves campaign finance reporting by PACs, candidates and state vendors.

In radio and television shows and numerous public appearances, West has called on residents to realize that, without "ethics in Rhode Island, we will have no state left."

CC/Rhode Island's quest for accountable government got its most recent shot in the arm when the state ethics commission fined former Gov. Edward DiPrete $30,000 for steering state contracts to two political cronies. The decision, handed down December 20, stemmed from complaints filed by CC/Rhode Island in 1989. The commission fined DiPrete $10,000 for each violation and an additional $5,000 in each case for failing to file a conflict-of-interest statement.

West is optimistic about passage of the reform package. Meanwhile, the coalition has asked the public to suspend their campaign contributions until the reform package is passed.

"That got their attention," says West of the state lawmakers. …

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