Gorbea Says New Law Offers Teeth Against Unregistered Lobbying

Jul 6, 2016

Governor Raimondo signs the lobbying bill into law, flanked by Reps. Jacquard, Williams, and McEntee, and Secretary of State Gorbea.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said the state's newly signed lobbying law will enable the state to pursue cases of unregistered lobbying.

Governor Gina Raimondo signed the lobbying bill into law Wednesday morning. That came a little more than a year after Gorbea's office dropped unregistered lobbying cases against two figures linked to 38 Studios, Michael Corso and Thomas Zaccagnino, due to flaws in the state's lobbying law.

“Had this [new] law been in place, there would have been a legal way to investigate and come to some conclusions in those cases and any other case that might be before the secretary,” Gorbea said, following a signing ceremony in the Statehouse library.

Like Gorbea, Raimondo touted the new law as a way to raise accountability for lobbyists, and to improve state government.

“It makes the rules clear, simple, consistent and transparent, and that’s the way it ought to be," Raimondo said. "If someone’s going to be lobbying the executive branch or the legislative branch of a quasi-state agency, we ought to know that, and the same rules should apply equally and transparently across branches of government.”

The revised lobbying law gained legislative approval after a similar effort led by Gorbea failed to clear the General Assembly last year.

Raimondo and Gorbea credited lawmakers for supporting the measure sponsored by state Rep. Robert Jacquard (D-Cranston) and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Warwick), including three state reps who attended the signing ceremony: Jacquard, Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) and Carol McEntee (D-South Kingstown). Senators did not attend since they were at the funeral of Senate Secretary Joseph Brady.

The new law takes effect January 1, 2017. Gorbea's office said a web-based lobbyist tracker portal is under development and will emerge before the next legislative session.

In a separate interview, John Marion, executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, called the new lobbying law a significant step "toward fixing the intractable problems with our current statutes. The legislation signed by Governor Raimondo will provide the secretary of state with the needed enforcement power so that the powerful can no longer stand above the law. Gone are the days when someone can avoid financial penalties by simply filing a report months, or even years, after the fact. The law will clarify and expand the definition of lobbyist so that the public can have confidence that those who are being paid to influence our elected officials are required to report their activity."

Common Cause was part of a task force assembled by Gorbea in developing the new law.

"While we didn’t get everything we wanted, particularly a requirement that lobbyists list specific bill numbers, this legislation represents a big leap forward for Rhode Island," Marion said. "For the first time lobbyists will be required to report what executive branch officials they are lobbying, providing the public with more information about the flow of influence on Smith Hill. This puts Rhode Island law into the top classification for lobbying laws according to the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL)."