PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Ethics Commission voted Tuesday to open an investigation into Lt. Gov. Dan McKee after Target 12 revealed the two-term Democrat failed to report an overseas trip paid for by a foreign government.
Target 12 reported April 10 that McKee did not include a 2017 trip to Asia on his annual ethics form despite a requirement to disclose official travel funded by outside entities. He amended the form to acknowledge the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Boston, an arm of the Taiwan government, paid $3,500 for his travel, hotel and food on that trip.
Brandon Bell, former chair of the R.I. Republican Party and now its acting general counsel, filed a complaint against McKee over the omission, arguing the Ethics Commission should fine him for it. The panel voted 6-0 at its meeting Tuesday to pursue Bell’s complaint.
“The commission found that the complaint states facts that, if true, would constitute a knowing and willful violation of the [ethics] code. And we authorized a full investigation of the matter,” said Ethics Commission Chairman Ross Cheit.
McKee is scheduled to return late tonight from another trip to Asia, this one paid for jointly by the Taiwan government and a Chinese company. McKee has previously said he mistakenly omitted the 2017 trip because he misunderstood the question.
McKee’s office referred comment to his attorney, Michael Kelly, who said, “I will not comment on the details other than to say we look forward to resolving this matter. We intend to fully cooperate with the Ethics Commission on this matter.”
Jason Gramitt, the commission’s executive director, said it was “a pretty simple allegation.”
“We’ve seen that the lieutenant governor seems to indicate that he made a mistake,” Gramitt said. “If that’s the case, he’s already made an amendment to his financial disclosure statement, so there’s not a whole lot left to investigate. We expect it to get back to the commission probably within the next month or two. … The commission will decide what happened, and what the appropriate penalty should be, if any.”
“Financial disclosure is really important,” he added. “And it’s important to be careful when you fill out these forms. On the other hand, sometimes people make mistakes, and when they do, we ask them to fix the mistake and generally to pay a small fine.”
Two officials who joined McKee on the 2017 trip — Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and state Sen. Sandra Cano, who was then a Pawtucket City Council member — both disclosed it when they filed their ethics forms.
Bell praised the panel’s vote.
“The unanimous decision by the Ethics Commission to authorize a full investigation sends the appropriate message to all public officials that they can’t just claim ignorance and amend their annual financial disclosure reports when they are caught with major omissions by the media,” Bell said in an email.
“It was only after he was questioned by the media a couple weeks ago that Lt. Gov. McKee amended his report to disclose the $3,500 2017 trip to Taiwan,” he continued. “This is a clear violation of the R.I. Ethics Code and the message is to comply with the law or be fined and found to have committed an ethics violation.”