``I wonder if that family of ticks in my yard knows that they are going to change the Tennessee state Constitution as a result of their action,'' Governor Bredesen told the Times Free Press.
------------------- State House lobbying efforts carry salary and benefits
01:00 AM EST on Monday, January 21, 2008
By Katherine Gregg and Cynthia Needham
Journal State House Bureau
Out of recent influence-peddling scandals came a law requiring every corporation, labor union and special-interest group that has a lobbyist at the State House to disclose ``anything of value'' they have given a state legislator.
Well, the latest reports are in for who-paid-who in 2007.
This is what they show -- and what they don't show -- about state lawmakers with both well-publicized and lesser-known relationships with some of the players on Smith Hill:
Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, was paid $92,606 last year as senior business agent for the largest state employees union: Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Senate Majority Whip Dominick Ruggerio, D-Providence, was paid $181,041 in salary and benefits as the administrator of an arm of the Laborers International Union known as the New England Laborers Employers Cooperation and Education Trust.
But in what has become an annual ritual, the Laborers union did not report the compensation paid two senators -- Paul E. Moura and Frank Ciccone -- who work for other branches of the sprawling union. Moura, D-East Providence, works for the New England Laborers Health & Safety Fund; Ciccone, D-Providence, is a field representative for the Rhode Island Laborers District Council and business manager for Local 808 representing state court employees.
Since these two wings of the union do not have lobbyists, Laborers lawyer Darren Corrente said, no disclosure is required -- and the secretary of state's online reporting system will not even allow him to file reports for them. But Corrente said he is already preparing his annual letter to the secretary of state in which he asserts no reporting is required, while disclosing ``out of an abundance of caution'' how much the two make.
On Friday, Corrente said Moura received $107,323 in pay and benefits from his employer, and Ciccone, $151,558 in compensation from the District Council, and $22,944 from Local 808.
Sen. Beatrice Lanzi, D-Cranston, was paid $61,485 as the director of ``labor community services'' for the United Way of Rhode Island.
MetLife Auto & Home paid close to $50,000 in commissions to insurance agencies where two lawmakers work: $12,566 to Sen. David Bates, R-Barrington, and $35,751 to Rep. William San Bento, D-Pawtucket.
The Beacon Mutual Insurance Company has paid out more than $100,000 in commissions and legal fees for ``representing injured workers'' to a half-dozen lawmakers, including: $75,435 in legal fees and a $2,398 dividend to Warwick Sen. John C. Revens Jr.'s law office; $2,250 in legal fees to Pawtucket Sen. John F. McBurney III's law office; a $14,244 agency commission to Bates; $9,220 in legal fees to the law office of Sen. Paul V. Jabour, D-Providence; a $255.82 dividend to San Bento's insurance agency and a $260 ``dividend'' to Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva-Weed's law firm, Moore, Virgadamo & Lynch.
The Lifespan Hospital network paid $62,686 in salary to former Rep. Peter Ginaitt, and $17,148 under a ``yearly pharmaceutical contract'' with the Pawtuxet Valley Prescription & Surgical Center owned by Sen. Leo Blais, R-Coventry, who in September sought U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection for the company.
Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan, D-East Providence, who is both a lawyer and emergency-room nurse, was paid $15,602 by the Care New England hospital network.
The New England Cable and Telecommunications Association disclosed spending $1,060 on a dinner held last July at LaForge Casino, the Newport restaurant owned by the late Rep. Paul Crowley. Rhode Island Housing disclosed two dinners totaling $235.59 at Local 121, the popular downtown Providence eatery owned by Sen. Josh Miller.
R.I.'s first lady is on the right side
Among those defending Governor Carcieri after he questioned ``why in God's name'' the state should provide English-language interpreters ``for people who want benefits from us'' was a group called the Ocean State Research Policy Institute.
As controversy swirled over Carcieri's talk-radio remarks, the group said: ``If he did commit any faux pas, it was in failing to propose eliminating the benefits themselves.''
Turns out First Lady Suzanne Carcieri is a founding member of the six-month-old Ocean State Policy Research Institute, which describes itself as a tax-exempt organization.
Check out the group's Web site. Mrs. Carcieri's picture tops those of the other members of board of directors, who include URI Prof. Edward Mazze; Daniel Harrop, an assistant professor in psychiatry at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and Jonathan Scott, a failed 2006 Republican candidate for Congress.
Asked about the first lady's involvement in a group that takes public stands on her husband's policy pronouncements, Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said: ``As a citizen of this state, Mrs. Carcieri believes it is important that all points of view are adequately represented.
``Rhode Island has a plethora of left-leaning interest groups who regularly express their views at the State House and in the media. Mrs. Carcieri believes that other points of view should have the same opportunity to be represented in Rhode Island's public policy debates. As a result, Mrs. Carcieri appreciated the opportunity to become a founding board member of this public policy research organization.''
As to where the group stands, the Web site says: ``Rhode Island is stuck in a `conservative' cycle protecting the `liberal' status quo of excessive workplace rules, generous social programs, retentive regulation, entrenched unionism in state government and Horace Mann's approach to education.''
In an exchange of e-mails with Political Scene, the organization's president, William Felkner, said the group is sometimes at odds with the governor, ``but no, we did not run it by her and I can't even say for sure if she is aware of it. We do not vet papers through the board and Mrs. Carcieri has never given input on any of our papers -- nor has the gov's office.''
Felkner said the group has, from time to time, opposed the governor as it did when he attempted to give his department directors, in one fell swoop, the same across-the-board pay raises other state workers got over the last four years, and ``will become very vocal if he proceeds with a state-owned energy entity, just as we would oppose any government intervention that impedes free enterprise.''
Felkner moved to Rhode Island after what he describes as a 15-year foray in the pet industry, ``starting as a temp employee at a pet store and finishing with a marketing and manufacturing company with a failed product on the shelves of Wal-Mart. After some soul-searching in the desolation of South Dakota, I moved to Rhode Island, got married, and went to college [as a 35-year-old freshman].''
He was featured in a 2004 Providence Journal story -- headlined ``Professor, is there room on the right?'' -- in which he voiced his concerns about ``biased education'' at Rhode Island College.
``I was amazed at the political indoctrination and tax-funded lobbying that took place. Later, I decided to become an opposing voice to those who challenge what I consider a traditional American culture. I finished my degree in psychology at RIC summa cum laude and then was almost thrown out of the Master's of Social Work program for the crime of being politically conservative,'' he said in an e-mail last week.
As to where the Ocean State Research Policy Institute draws it money, its filings as a registered nonprofit organization are not yet public. But Neal said the state does not contribute, and he does not believe the governor or Mrs. Carcieri have either.
Neal offered this perspective: ``The Ocean State Policy Research Institute is an independent organization that is not affiliated with the state. If left-leaning advocacy groups like the Poverty Institute can be hosted by Rhode Island College, a taxpayer funded, state-owned institution of higher education, and can lobby in the State House despite their nonprofit tax status, Ocean State Policy is certainly free to conduct research and express its positions.''
When you gotta go ...
In a week that saw the governor unveil major budget changes, let's not forget the introduction of another, ahem, explosive bill last week.
The Restroom Access Act of 2008 would require retail businesses to allow customers with medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease to use the restroom, even if it is not open to the public.
Patients suffering from those ailments would be required to carry a card proving their medical condition and produce it when requesting to use the bathroom.
Sponsor Deborah Fellela, D-Johnston, said she got the idea for her ``bathroom bill'' when a local gastroenterologist told her that patients suffering from gastrointestinal troubles routinely get rejected when asking to use the restroom in emergency situations.
Fellela knows the bill is bound to be the butt of a few jokes from her colleagues at the General Assembly, but -- bad puns aside -- she believes it's an important step for those in need.
``It's not going to cost a lot of money; the facilities are already there,'' Fellela said. ``It might be a little inconvenient, but if it helps a person out and it doesn't have a fiscal impact, then I think it's a good thing.''
In Rhode Island, it was a snowstorm while the governor slept on a plane halfway around the world that sparked questions about who should be in charge in the absence of the state's chief executive.
In Tennessee, it was an acute case of Lyme disease that raised eyebrows.
Tennessee politicians reportedly began considering changing the state Constitution to create a lieutenant governor position after Gov. Phil Bredesen was incapacitated for several weeks by the tick-borne illness in 2006, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. This month, the Governor's Advisory Committee on the Transfer of Chief Executive Powers proposed a constitutional amendment doing just that.
When General Assembly members here in Rhode Island earlier this month proposed amending the state Constitution to let the lieutenant governor to take charge in the governor's absence, a Carcieri staffer said the governor believed the bill wasn't practical and could present problems such as ``chicanery'' by a lieutenant governor who could meddle in day-to-day affairs.
Unlike the Carcieri administration, Tennessee's Governor Bredesen seemed to take his state's proposal in stride.
``I wonder if that family of ticks in my yard knows that they are going to change the Tennessee state Constitution as a result of their action,'' he told the Times Free Press.