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RI GOP calls on Smiley to resign over campaign contributions

Providence

Brett Smiley (file photo)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Republican Party is calling on Brett Smiley, director of administration under Gov. Gina Raimondo, to resign his position over contributions from state vendors he received for his impending Providence mayoral campaign.

Smiley, a Democrat, pledged in October to the R.I. Ethics Commission that he would not take campaign donations from state employees or vendors, acknowledging the unique role he has as head of the Department of Administration.

But the campaign finance report he filed for the final quarter of 2020 did include some donations from owners of state vendors that have contracts through Smiley’s department. He has since refunded six campaign donors identified in his report by Target 12.

“It is slimy behavior to specifically promise the Ethics Commission that you won’t accept donations from state vendors, and then turn around and take them,” R.I. Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Cienki said in a statement. “For violating his commitment to the Ethics Commission Smiley should immediately resign from his position as Director of Administration. He has shown he can not be trusted to ethically perform his job as Director of Administration while running for mayor.”

Smiley declined to comment on the GOP’s call, but has previously said he was proud to make the pledge and would refund any other donations identified as having violated it.

Cienki said the GOP is considering filing a complaint with the Ethics Commission over the fundraising, particularly if donations were solicited.

“If Mr. Smiley does not resign immediately, the R.I. Republican Party will prepare a complaint requesting that the Ethics Commission investigate Smiley’s fundraising activities with state vendors,” Cienki said. “Let’s hope the Ethics Commission is at least willing to investigate a politician who lied to them.” 

Smiley’s pledge was to neither accept nor solicit donations from state employees and vendors, though the Ethics Commission tends to focus on solicitation when considering potential violations.

At least one of the donors whom Smiley refunded — Colin Kane of the Peregrine Group, which received state funds to do work on alternative hospital sites — told Target 12 Smiley had called him to ask for the donation.

“I’ve known Brett since before he was in politics,” Kane said, adding that his firm’s work with the state didn’t even occur to him when Smiley asked for the donation. “I didn’t think about it at all.” 

Smiley did not accept any donations from state employees other than Gov. Gina Raimondo, who is not a subordinate. (He refunded one donation to Elizabeth Roberts, an employee of the University of Rhode Island, prior to filing the report.)

The R.I. Ethics Code says public officials cannot solicit donations from subordinates, and the advisory opinion given to Smiley in October further states: “For the purposes of the prohibition on solicitations, the term ‘subordinate’ includes other employees, contractors, consultants, or appointed officials of the official’s or employee’s agency.”

The advisory opinion also memorialized Smiley’s own pledge not to accept such donations.

The matter of Smiley’s employment will ultimately be left up to Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who is poised to take over for Raimondo when she is confirmed to President Joe Biden’s cabinet. McKee has not commented on which of Raimondo’s cabinet members he might keep in his own administration, other than to say he plans to ask the coronavirus response team to remain in place.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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