Ethics panel fines Lt. Gov., will probe Senator

Lt. Gov. Dan McKee (at right) and his attorney Michael Kelly emerge from a closed-door meeting of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, which imposed a $250 fine for failing to disclose several trips. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted Tuesday to fine a general officer, and to put a member of the General Assembly under the microscope.

Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee was fined a $250 civil penalty under terms of an “informal resolution and settlement” for his failure to disclose several trips on his ethics filings.

“I can just tell you that we’re happy with the commission, and leave it at that,” said McKee, a Democrat following a closed-door meeting with the ethics panel, on the complaint, filed by the former chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party, Brandon Bell.

Under terms of the settlement, McKee, one of five state general officers, reserves his right to argue for a lesser penalty.

“We were able to demonstrate that the story line that I did something to impact an election was absolutely false,” said McKee. “So, the former Republican chair’s example was not accurate and we were able to show that.”

Ethics Commission members also voted to overrule their staff and order an investigation into a complaint alleging that State Senator Valarie Lawson, an East Providence Democrat, voted on several matters that Republican Bell alleged, put her in conflict with her full-time position as Vice President of the National Education Association Rhode Island.

The vote by the Ethics Commission to overrule its staff recommendation was “highly unusual”, according to John Marion, Executive Director of the government watchdog group Common Cause of Rhode Island.

“This doesn’t indicate she did anything wrong,” Marion said. “It just indicates they they think there’s enough in the complaint for them to ask some more questions.”

The staff has 90 days to conclude its probe and make a recommendation to the full Commission.

Late Tuesday, Sen. Lawson declined to speak with a reporter, but later issued a statement through the Senate press officer:

“I strive to conduct the people’s business transparently and within the rules as they exist. Prior to taking any action on the continuing contracts or JANUS legislation, I sought and received guidance from staff at the Ethics Commission. I also asked the Senate’s attorney to follow up with the Ethics Commission to confirm my understanding of how to proceed. I adhered to the guidance that was provided by the Commission’s staff, which may be why the prosecutor recommended dismissal of the complaint.”

Senator Valarie Lawson (D-East Providence) Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

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