“It’s Legal” Doesn’t Make It Right
Two stories in the Providence Journal lately have me lamenting more of the same in Rhode Island. More of lack of strong leadership and more disregard for the people and the spirit of law.
Last Thursday, they reported that Senators Paiva-Weed, Ruggerio and Goodwin were invited to the Senate Presidents Forum in Key West. The RI Senate President was invited in order to speak about the RI pension reform bill that recently passed. Additionally, the conference paid for a portion of the costs. The other portion, thankfully, was not paid by taxpayers but instead by the campaign account of Senator Paiva-Weed.
Apparently, this is legal:
(b)(4) Travel expenses for an officeholder, provided that the travel is undertaken as an ordinary and necessary expense of seeking, holding, or maintaining public office, or seeking, holding, or maintaining a position within the legislature or other publicly elected body. If a candidate or officeholder uses campaign funds to pay expenses associated with travel that involves both personal activities and campaign or officeholder activities, the incremental expenses that result from the personal activities are personal use, unless the person(s) benefiting from this use reimburse(s) the campaign account within thirty (30) days for the amount of the incremental expenses;
Was this trip a part of their holding the office? Yes. However, I do wonder if the senators would have no problem with looking a donor in the eye and explaining to them that their $20 donation could go toward the Senator’s trip to Key West. How many donors think of it that way? I’m guessing they more think their money is going toward yard signs or newspaper advertising or any of the other various expenses that come up in the course of a campaign. I doubt many think “Sure, I’ll give this senator my money so they can go on a trip to Key West, Florida.”
Also in the Journal was an article about various lobbyists who purchased advertising space in newspapers owned by State Senator John Tassoni. Apparently, most of the lobbyists who made this purchase did not report this expenditure by the required deadline. When Sen. Tassoni was asked about this, he said
“It’s not my responsibility. It’s the responsibility of the people that buy the ads to fill out the proper documents.”
Which is true, it’s not his responsibility to fill out forms for the state or disclose that information, it’s the lobbyists’ job. However, a state senator should be interested in good government and transparent government. If something isn’t right that is related to a business that he owns, he should be ready to step up and take a stronger stand against the lobbyists that aren’t adhering to the state’s expenditure laws, and not simply wave his hands and claim “Not my fault.”
In both of these cases, while no senator has done anything illegal, they just don’t really pass the smell test. Neither one really feels right, neither one feels like the senators are showing leadership and promoting good government and representation in Rhode Island. That is something that the state still needs a lot more of.