Former House Speaker Gordon Fox has admitted that he violated the law by converting campaign money to personal use and accepting a bribe to wire a liquor license for a Thayer Street bar that the neighbors weren’t too keen on having near their homes.
But in Rhode Island political circles, the biggest rule he broke was the iron, if unofficial, Statehouse cliché: Don’t take a dime while you are serving in the General Assembly. Then cash in for as much as you can make later.
A lawmaker with Fox’s smarts, ability and connections can make a lot of money (legally) by waiting until he/she leaves the capitol, waiting the year required by the state’s revolving door provisions, and hanging out a lobbying shingle.
The marble corridors are filled with lobbyists who jump on the special interest gravy train after they leave the Assembly. Among the top lobbyists in Rhode Island these days are such heavies as Joe Walsh, a former state senator and onetime Warwick mayor; Bobby Goldberg, former state Senate minority leader; and Billy Murphy, a former House Speaker who is both a lobbyist and one of the state’s top criminal criminal defense lawyers. (Murphy represented Fox).
By living above his means as a lawmaker (fancy house and late-model Audis in driveway), Fox ruined his chances of getting rich as a lobbyist when his tenure as speaker was over. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Fox used $108,000 in campaign contributions to pay for personal living expenses, including the mortgage on his house on Providence’s East Side, his credit card bills and gifts. In addition, he pleaded guilty to accepting a $52,000 bribe to obtain a liquor license for the Shark bar on Thayer Street near Brown University. At the time in 2008, Fox was a member of the Providence’s Board of Licenses.
Hopefully, Fox’s conviction will send shivers through a Statehouse where too many lawmakers wink at campaign finance laws and state ethics rules.