PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lt. Gov. Dan McKee failed to disclose an overseas trip he took during his first term that was paid for by a foreign government, despite a Rhode Island Ethics Commission rule requiring him to do so, Target 12 has learned.
Target 12 discovered the omission after learning McKee is leaving this Friday for a 10-day trip to Asia along with Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, state Sen. Sandra Cano and state Rep. Carlos Tobon.
McKee took a previous trip to Asia in 2017, yet did not reveal that on his financial disclosure form for the year. The Ethics Commission requires all Rhode Island public officials to disclose any out-of-state official travel valued at more than $250 that is paid for by other persons or entities.
A few hours after Target 12 inquired Wednesday about this year’s trip, McKee amended the 2017 form to disclose that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Boston paid $3,500 for his travel, hotel and food that year.
Tony Silva, McKee’s chief of staff, said in a phone interview the lieutenant governor coincidentally realized the omission himself shortly before Target 12 asked about it. He said he had reminded McKee at lunch Wednesday to complete this year’s financial disclosure form before his departure. “As a result, he says, ‘Hey, I just realized I didn’t put down the last trip to Taiwan,'” Silva said.
The second-term Democrat wants to be “as accurate and transparent as can be,” Silva added.
Common Cause Rhode Island pushed the Ethics Commission to add the travel disclosure rule after a series of revelations about politicians taking out-of-state trips funded by outside groups.
“Common Cause proposed this rule to require the source of funding of travel by public officials in 2012 because we believe that Rhode Islanders deserve to know this information,” John Marion, the group’s executive director, said in an email. “Oftentimes paid travel is used as a means of influence and we feel that shining a light on that travel, and who paid for it, is important.”
The lieutenant governor’s Ethics Commission filings show no other out-of-state trips paid for by outside entities during his first term. Silva said he did not believe any other trips went undisclosed “to the best of my knowledge,” but would double check.
Diossa, who also accompanied McKee on the 2017 visit to Taiwan, included that trip on his own Ethics Commission form that year, saying they were invited to the country’s National Day celebration. Diossa said the Taipei Office in Boston spent $1,950 on his hotel, travel and food.
McKee and the other leaders will depart for Asia on Friday and return to Rhode Island on April 23, according to Silva, who said getting ready for the trip has involved “a tremendous amount of work.” The group will spend five days in Taiwan and five days in China.
The Blackstone Valley has forged closer ties with Taiwan through the annual Rhode Island Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival, which will be held for the 20th year on Sept. 7. Funding and entertainment for the festival is provided by the Boston Taipei Office, according to Grebien’s office.
The Taipei Office, which is similar to an embassy or a consulate, announced earlier this month it would donate an additional six fiberglass Taiwanese-style dragon boats for the event.
Tim White contributed to this report.