PROVIDENCE — The state Ethics Commission on Tuesday voted to investigate part of a complaint that the Republican Party filed against Governor Gina M. Raimondo over a proposed no-bid, 20-year, $1 billion extension of IGT’s Rhode Island lottery contract that she supports.
The ethics code prohibits people from using public office to obtain financial gain for business associates. And the GOP claims Raimondo is a business associate of Donald R. Sweitzer, IGT’s retired chairman and one of its current lobbyists, because he is the treasurer and she is the chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
The ethics code defines “business associate” as “a person joined together with another person to achieve a common financial objective.”
The commission voted 6-1 to investigate that portion of the complaint, with commission member Emili B. Vaziri voting no. At this point, the commission isn’t engaged in fact finding and is deciding whether the complaint would be a violation if all the information presented is true.
The commission voted 6-1 to dismiss another part of the complaint, which claimed Raimondo violated the ethics code by signing legislation allowing online sports gambling in the state and then having the Rhode Island Lottery give this new line of business to IGT without seeking bids. That claim also hinged on whether Raimondo and Sweitzer are business associates. Commission member J. Douglas Bennett cast the lone dissenting vote.
“We are thrilled that they are going to investigate what we believe is a violation of the ethics law, in that the governor is a business associate of Don Sweitzer, an IGT lobbyist,” state Republican Party chair Sue Cienki said. “We are looking forward to the conclusion of their investigation, and in the meantime, we hope the Legislature does not vote on this 20-year, $1 billion contract extension until the Ethics Commission completes its investigation.”
Jonathan Berkon, a lawyer representing Raimondo in the case, said, “We applaud the Ethics Commission’s decision to throw out one of the two claims filed by the state Republican Party. We are confident that when the Ethics Commission reviews the facts relating to the other claim, it will once again conclude this latest partisan complaint has no merit.”
The Ethics Commission has 180 days to investigate before holding a probable cause hearing. At that hearing, the commission can either dismiss the complaint or decide there is sufficient evidence to go to a full administrative hearing.
The fight over the proposed contract extension has become the hottest issue in the State House this summer.
IGT is seeking a new 20-year deal worth more than $1 billion that would keep 1,100 jobs in the state and guarantee the company would have its video lottery terminals on 85 percent of the floor at Twin River’s casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton.
Lawmakers are expected to review the contract in the coming weeks.