PROVIDENCE -- The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted 7-1 Tuesday to dismiss a complaint alleging that Governor Gina M. Raimondo violated the ethics code in negotiating a proposed no-bid, 20-year, $1-billion extension of the lottery contract between the state and IGT.
Former state Republican Party Chairman Brandon S. Bell filed the complaint last year, claiming Raimondo violated a prohibition against public officials using a public office to benefit a “business associate.”
The GOP complaint claimed Raimondo was a business associate of Donald R. Sweitzer, IGT’s retired chairman and lobbyist, because he was treasurer of the Democratic Governors Association when she was the chairwoman. The ethics code defines “business associate” as “a person joined together with another person to achieve a common financial objective.”
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Ethics Commission held a meeting via Zoom conference before going into an executive session and releasing its decision.
The commission’s prosecutors presented a report outlining the results of its investigation, which included use of the commission’s subpoena power, “extensive witness interviews,” depositions, and a review of documents.
The commission agreed with the prosecution’s recommendation and voted 7-1 to find that “there does not exist probable cause to believe that (Raimondo) committed a knowing and willful violation of the Code of Ethics and to dismiss the complaint with prejudice.”
The state Republican Party scoffed at the decision, saying in a statement that the decision “just makes it easier for politicians and their lobbyist friends to circumvent the Ethics Code” and pointing out that many commission members are gubernatorial appointees.
“In recent years, the Ethics Commission has interpreted the conflict of interest provisions of the Ethics Code in a way that benefits State House politicians,” the statement read.
Raimondo’s lawyer in the matter, Jonathan Berkon, praised the decision.
“We are pleased that the Ethics Commission voted to dismiss this baseless complaint, following a thorough review," he said. "The governor remains focused on fighting every day to get Rhode Islanders safely back to work.”
John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, noted the public won’t know the details behind the commission’s reasoning until it releases a full decision and order at a later date. “We hope the commission’s written explanation provides a sufficiently clear explanation for why they dismissed this serious allegation,” he said.
Ethics Commission Executive Director Jason M. Gramitt said the written decision and order providing a full explanation is being expedited and will be released in a week or two.
Last summer and fall, Raimondo pushed to give IGT a 20-year extension, emphasizing that it would ensure that more than 1,000 jobs remained in Rhode Island and saying there are only three companies in the country capable of running the lottery. IGT, which stands for International Gaming Technology, is headquartered in London and has major operations in Providence, Las Vegas, and Rome.
That proposal met fierce opposition from Twin River, which runs casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton. Twin River announced it would partner with Scientific Games, another major lottery company, and urged the state to put the lottery contract out to bid.
But that partnership never materialized. Instead, Twin River embraced IGT, announcing in January that the companies had reached an agreement to create a new company that would supply all video lottery terminals – slot machines or other electronic games – to the state’s two casinos for the next two decades. IGT would control 60 percent of the company and Twin River would control 40 percent.
The General Assembly has not had a chance to act on that proposal because it is not holding sessions amid the coronavirus outbreak.