WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — House Speaker Joe Shekarchi has proposed tweaking the state’s ethics code, an effort he argues will increase transparency around how elected officials disclose credit card debt for public inspection.
The proposed legislation would require everyone who’s required to file an annual ethics disclosure form — including elected officials — to include all credit card debt greater than $1,000 that has been subject to a court judgement.
The effort comes in the wake of a Target 12 investigation last year that revealed former state Rep. Carlos Tobon, a Pawtucket Democrat, had been taken to court multiple times over questionable debts that were never disclosed in his annual ethics filings.
“The bill would, I want to use the word, close a loophole in the current ethics law,” Shekarchi told Target 12 on Wednesday during an interview outside his law office in Warwick.
The Target 12 probe into Tobon’s hidden financial debts spurred Shekarchi to strip him of his leadership position and removing him from the influential House Finance Committee.
Tobon subsequently stopped showing up for the final several weeks of the 2022 legislative session and then he didn’t file paperwork to run for re-election. Cherie Cruz won in November to replace Tobon in the State House.
The proposed legislation still wouldn’t require elected officials to disclose other types of debt subject to court judgment, raising questions about how much it would have affected Tobon’s situation specifically.
The former lawmaker had a series of money owed to individuals — both dead and alive — many of which landed him before a judge and were not disclosed on his forms.
Regardless, Shekarchi said he’s hopeful this change will help the House move in a positive direction toward greater transparency.
“It’s part of the ongoing House leadership of more transparency we think that brings good government,” he said, adding that he’s optimistic it has a good chance of passing this session in the House.
There was no Senate version of the bill as of Wednesday.
Tim White (email@example.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.
Eli Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.