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Gallison resignation intensifies push for ethics reform

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — “Here we go again.”

That was government watchdog John Marion’s reaction when he first heard of Raymond Gallison’s sudden resignation from the House of Representatives.

“There is almost a continuous parade of folks who are getting in trouble,” said Marion, who is the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island.

While Marion says most elected officials are doing good work, he’s concerned about the political culture of scandal in Rhode Island, particularly on Smith Hill. Former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox is currently serving time for corruption in federal prison. Former State Representative and Providence City Councilor Leon Tejada reported to prison Monday, after pleading guilty to tax and wire fraud charges.

Gallison tendered his resignation Tuesday amid a state and federal investigation.

It’s not the first time Gallison has been in hot water. In 2007, he settled with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission for failing to report some of his income as required by law. Earlier this year, he paid a small fine after acknowledging he misreported campaign contributions.

Marion called these “early warnings.”

Timeline: Recent political scandals in Rhode Island »
Timeline: Recent political scandals in Rhode Island »

“If someone isn’t going to be trustworthy in what they have to report to the state about their income, then they may violate the public trust in other ways,” he said.

Common Cause RI supports an ethics reform bill that would give the Ethics Commission the ability to discipline lawmakers, who are currently immune from scrutiny by the commission for improprieties that happen during the course of their duties as lawmakers.

“It’s high time for ethics reform,” said Sen. Jim Sheehan (D-North Kingstown), who is a sponsor of an ethics reform bill in the Senate. He’s been pushing to give the Ethics Commission oversight of the legislature since 2010, one year after a state Supreme Court case changed the rules.

Sheehan said Tuesday he will continue to push for reform in light of yet another lawmaker’s resignation.

“People want to see change,” Sheehan added. “I think it’s incumbent on the General Assembly to restore some measure of public trust in the institution, and I think ethics reforms would go a long way to do that.”

After announcing Gallison’s resignation Tuesday, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello told reporters he was moving ahead with plans to introduce his own ethics reform bill, possibly as early as this week.

Mattiello said the bill “provides conflict-of-interest oversight, as we had the day I got elected,” an apparent reference to the 2009 Supreme Court decision that exempted lawmakers from oversight.

John Marion says a change in Rhode Island’s political culture is as important as a change in the law.

“The citizens demand a change in culture,” he said. “That’s the only way that will ever occur.”

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