In RI, Politicians Hire Lots of Politicians – It Creates Lots of Issues

In RI, politicians hire other elected officials. John Marion comments on the ethical problems that this practice presents.

This article originally appeared in Go Local Prov on November 4, 2023 and was written by the Go Local Prov news team

John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, says the protections in Rhode Island are limited and have been weakened by the Rhode Island General Assembly.

“Partisan politicians also being government employees presents special challenges. We don’t want government jobs being used to advance partisan causes. That’s why in 1939 Congress passed the Hatch Act, and the same year, our General Assembly passed Rhode Island’s version. Both laws bar government employees from engaging in partisan politics while on government time,” said Marion.

“We don’t have to look very far back to see some of the potential problems created by having people running for and serving in elected office while also being state government employees. Now-mayor Brett Smiley was fined by the Ethics Commission for soliciting donations from state vendors when he was serving as the Director of the Department of Administration. When you have people who are in partisan elected offices serving as state government employees, the question is, whose interests are they serving, the people who elected them to office or their employer?” added Marion.

“When it comes to elected office, Rhode Island’s law is more permissive than the federal one, and was weakened last year. The Hatch Act prevents virtually all federal employees from running for, and serving in, partisan elected office. It even applies to state and local employees whose jobs are primarily federally funded,” said Marion.

The worry for Common Cause is that the laws are getting weaker.

“Under Rhode Island law, there is a significant group of unclassified employees, including those on the staff of the governor and the General Assembly, who are allowed to also hold partisan elected office. Last year the General Assembly weakened the law over objections from Common Cause Rhode Island. Previously, the law barred classified employees–what we colloquially refer to as the civil service–from running for and serving in partisan state elected office,” said Marion. “It was watered down so that now classified employees can run for partisan state elected office, but can only serve if they resign from state employment. Common Cause Rhode Island argued that the law should have been strengthened to also bar unclassified employees from running for and serving in state elected office.”

To read the full article, click here.