Roughly one month ago we covered the story of some trouble that the Democratic Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo found herself in. In case you missed it, the nutshell version is that the Governor ran through a deal to renew a state contract with the company that handle’s Rhode Island’s lottery system, including a new sports betting system that was just approved. Nothing too unusual there, right? Sure, except the former CEO of the company in question is now a lobbyist with deep ties to the Governor. Also, the contract was renewed on a no-bid basis and there had already been complaints about their performance.
Shortly after that, Republican leadership in the state called for an ethics investigation into this deal. (Providence Journal)
The close political relationship between Governor Raimondo and Donald Sweitzer — the former IGT chairman she chose, in her role as chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association, to be her national fundraising chief — has led to an ethics complaint.
On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Republican Party lodged a complaint against Raimondo with the state Ethics Commission. It alleges Raimondo violated the state Ethics Code when she entered into a “tentative agreement” to extend IGT’s contract to run the state’s video and traditional Lottery systems through 2043 without “an open and public competitive bid process.”
The Ethics Code prohibits public officials from using their public offices to benefit themselves or their “business associates.” It also requires competitive bidding before the award of a state contract to a business in which a “business associate” has even a $5,000 stake.
The complaint alleges that Raimondo violated the ethics code in March by signing legislation allowing online sports gambling anywhere in the state of Rhode Island and then having the Rhode Island Lottery give this new line of business to IGT without seeking competitive bids.
Well, it took a while for the Ethics Commission to decide what to do with this hot potato, but this week they finally decided. As Providence Journal reporter Patrick Anderson tweeted, they will open an investigation into one of the two complaints.
The Ethics Commission has voted to investigate @GovRaimondo for potential violation in GOP complaint regarding IGT
— Patrick Anderson (@PatrickAnderso_) August 20, 2019
Here’s the weird part of the decision that makes me wonder whether the Ethics Commission might want to take a look at their own ethics. There were two complaints registered. One covered the fact that Sweitzer should be considered a “business associate” of the Governor and should not be allowed to profit from her official work in the form of a contract like this. That complaint will be investigated.
The other complaint was over the fact that competitive bidding wasn’t allowed, which is also verboten if the beneficiary is a “business associate” of the elected official. That’s the one they opted not to investigate.
Isn’t the no-bid deal the heart of the scandal here? Particularly when the company’s lobbyist who apparently sits in the Governor’s back pocket is their former CEO? There were complaints lodged about the fact that IGT was underperforming compared to many of their competitors in that field and charging too much, to begin with. This contract is decades-long and will be bringing literally billions of dollars to IGT. Surely someone else could have put in a bid that was at least worth a look.
This just seems like grifting no matter which angle you look at it from. And the key component of the complaint is being brushed off by the Ethics Committee. The Governor still may wind up being held accountable for some of the dirty laundry being looked at, but not all of it.