PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Ethics Commission on Tuesday voted to open a formal investigation into Gov. Gina Raimondo’s dealings with gaming giant IGT in response to a complaint filed by the state Republican Party.
The GOP alleged that Raimondo violated the state ethics code by negotiating a proposed 20-year extension of IGT’s state contact to run lottery and casino games. The Republicans cited Raimondo’s relationship with Don Sweitzer, IGT’s former chairman and current lobbyist, who was tapped by the governor to be treasurer of the Democratic Governors Association. Raimondo is the current chair of the national group.
Tuesday’s vote was an initial step based on the facts put forward by the GOP. “The decision to investigate does not address the validity of the complaint; rather, it merely indicates that the allegations properly fall under the provisions of the Code of Ethics,” the commission’s website says. “Neither the complainant nor the respondent participates in the initial determination.”
The commission separately voted to dismiss a related GOP complaint that questioned why the proposed IGT deal was not put out to bid.
In a statement, Republican Party leaders said they were “pleased” to see the commission will investigate what they described as the “special treatment” Raimondo has shown IGT. They noted the commission previously fined former Republican Gov. Ed DiPrete and former Democratic House Speaker Gordon Fox, both of whom later went to prison.
Jonathan Berkon, a lawyer for Raimondo, expressed little concern about the commission’s move.
“We applaud the Ethics Commission’s decision to throw out one of the two claims filed by the state Republican Party,” Berkon said in a statement. “We are confident that when the Ethics Commission reviews the facts relating to the other claim, it will once again conclude this latest partisan complaint has no merit.”
The move comes as Raimondo continues lobbying the legislature to approve the IGT contract despite fierce criticism from Twin River Worldwide Holdings, which argues it should be put out for bid. Legislative leaders have said they plan to hold hearings on the proposal this fall.
Republican leaders urged the Assembly to hold off until the investigation is over. “The people of Rhode Island deserve to know all the facts about the Raimondo-Sweitzer-IGT connection before any legislator is asked to vote on a $20 billion no-bid contract for IGT,” they said.
Raimondo acknowledged in an interview with WPRI 12 earlier this month that appointing Sweitzer may have been “a mistake,” but only because it allowed questions to be asked about the propriety of his dual roles at IGT and the DGA.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook