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Lobbying reform law signed, after Target 12 investigation

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new bill reforming and clarifying lobbying rules was signed into law Wednesday by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo; a bill that was backed by Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and came in the wake of a Target 12 investigation into the 38 Studios scandal. The ceremonial signing took place at the State House Library.

The 2016 Lobby Reform Act is designed, Gorbea’s office said, to define who must register to lobby lawmakers, provide a clear process to investigate possible lobbying violations, and clarify penalties for violations. The law goes into effect January 1, 2017.

The act stems from “repeated concerns” from constituents, lawmakers and lobbyists saying that the state’s previous lobbying statutes were hard to figure out and comply with.

Those concerns were brought to light by “38 Studios: Behind Closed Doors,” a comprehensive probe by Target 12 Investigator Tim White and WPRI.com reporter Ted Nesi, in May of 2014. Then-secretary of state Ralph Mollis launched a state investigation after Target 12’s report found no one from 38 Studios ever registered to lobby state lawmakers or the executive branch during the years the video game company was known to be active in Rhode Island (2010 to 2012).

To better track future registrations of lobbyists, Gorbea’s office said the Department of State is developing a web-based “Lobby Tracker Portal,” with the intent of launching before the next legislative session.

38 Studios, founded by former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling, was given a $75 million loan backed by the state of Rhode Island through the Economic Development Corporation (now replaced by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation) to bring about 400 jobs to the state at an average salary of $70,000 per year. The company released one video game, but started defaulting on paying back the EDC, couldn’t pay workers, spiraled into bankruptcy and eventually collapsed altogether.

“This law strengthens Rhode Island’s commitment to transparency and effective government,” said Gorbea. She credited the bill’s General Assembly sponsors, Rep. Robert Jacquard and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata, as well as their colleagues and the governor “for working with me to make Rhode Island a national leader in openness and transparency.”

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