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Dan Lawlor: The Mysterious World of Mr. McAuliffe

Monday, August 20, 2012


"All laws, therefore, should be made for the good of the whole; and the burdens of the state ought to be fairly distributed among its citizens." - Rhode Island Constitution, Section 2

This is the story of a perfectly friendly person who is perfectly connected to many other perfectly nice people.

Richard McAuliffe is probably not a widely known person. He is, however, a very well connected lobbyist.

As reported in GoLocal, there are many lawmakers turned lobbyists in Rhode Island. To name but a few, Stephen Alves (former Senate Finance Chairperson), William Murphy (former Speaker of the House), George Caruolo (former House majority leader), Linda Kushner (former State Representative), and Robert Goldberg (husband of a current State Supreme Court Justice, and former Senate Minority leader). There are also numerous lobbyists with former government connections. Any one of the many high paid lobbyists in the State are part of the equally mysterious lobbying world as Mr. McAuliffe.

I point to Mr. McAuliffe simply because his career illustrates the revolving door between government and business.

On his biography, Mr. McAuliffe states clearly, "In addition to the legislative and regulatory responsibilities, McAuliffe has brought millions of dollars in public funds to his clients."

What is his RI pedigree?

Legislative assistant for Jack Reed.

Lt. Governor Charlie Fogarty's campaign manager and chief of staff.

District Director for Patrick Kennedy.

In between working for Reed and Fogarty, McAuliffe worked for Citizens Bank.

His biography notes, "While in government, McAuliffe covered a wide range of issues, from economic development to health care and education. He worked with both public and private entities, helping them seek and secure federal and state dollars. He has extensive knowledge of both the state and federal committee processes, having presented testimony in many capacities on behalf of his clients. Through his work and experience, McAuliffe has established a strong working relationship with the members of the New England Congressional delegation, as well as state legislative leaders."


O yes, by the way, McAuliffe is a member of the Rhode Island Judicial Nominating Committee, the non-partisan body that nominates judges. A person who lobbies the legislature is on the committee that suggests to the legislature who should become a judge. In the past, other lobbyists have served on the committee as well.

I don't say this to single out McAuliffe as a person. I say this to point to a problem. The back and forth between government and private sector lobbying and contractors is corrupting to democracy.

Now, Mr. McAuliffe is hardly lobbying for weapons contractors - his clients include Johnson and Wales, the national video game producer's association (Entertainment Software Association), United Nurses and Allied Professionals, and Progressive Auto Insurance, among many others. Yet, at the end of the day, he is participating and perpetuating a system of pay to play.

In essence, he and his cohort of former government officials are saying, "You want access to decision makers? Pay for it."

Across the state, many private firms are paying former state and federal employees for "extensive knowledge of both the state and federal committee processes" as well as "strong working relationship with the members of the New England Congressional delegation, as well as state legislative leaders." In other words, people are paying for better access than their neighbors to government officials.

We are the smallest of quahogs in the country. Yet, at the end of the day, the tentacles of big money influence government.

From the Quik Stop Deli in Slatersville to New York System in Olneyville, all business owners should be treated with equal respect and consideration by the Assembly. From the RI Tea Party to Ocean State Action, all activists groups should be a given a fair hearing. From families in Woonsocket to families in Little Compton, I hope all citizens are heard equally.

The wheeling and dealing of big money players neglects, rejects, and disrespects the entire idea of honest, open government. We need a new day in this state.

Here are some suggestions to make it happen:

1. 10 year ban on legislators serving as lobbyists.

2. Ban legislators (for life), their staff (for a period of 5 years after leaving office), and their immediate family (for life) from appointment as court magistrates.

3. Ban registered lobbyists from serving as members of the Judicial Nominating Commission, the committee which nominates judges.

4. Establish a fixed calendar, allowing 48 hour notice and public hearings of bills. Bills should not be voted on in a rush in the last 24 hours of session.

5. Term limits on the office of Speaker and Senate President (no more than 8 years).

I hope Mr. McAuliffe will resign from the Judicial Nominating Committee, and the legislature pass a law to ensure no future registered lobbyists will appear on it.


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