R.I. Ethics Commission dismisses complaint against Governor McKee

This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe on January 23, 2024 and was written by Edward Fitzpatrick.  

Below is John Marion’s comment on the Ethics Commission’s dismissal of a complaint that claimed Governor Daniel J. McKee violated the ethics code by accepting a free lunch with a lobbyist.

John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said the “knowing and willful” standard used for ethics violations is a high one. “There are other lesser standards in other laws,” he said. “It’s a policy decision the Ethics Commission and the legislature have made over the years to make the bar high.”


Marion said ethics violations are serious and can tarnish someone’s reputation. “So there should be high bar,” he said. “I think it’s worth a debate, though, about whether there shouldn’t be a lower bar for situations where there are unintentional lapses.”

For example, he noted that in 2020 a judge overturned the Ethics Commission’s decision to fine then-state Supreme Court Justice Francis X. Flaherty $200 for failing to disclose he was president of a Catholic legal group while ruling on a priest sexual abuse case.

“The commission could not prove intent,” Marion said. “There needs to be a stick available to the Ethics Commission for people that might not be looking to engage in unethical behavior but are not abiding by the law nonetheless.”

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