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PowerPlayer: Common Cause Executive Director John Marion

Monday, November 14, 2011


This week’s PowerPlayer is Common Cause Executive Director John Marion. Mr. Marion was kind enough to chat with GoLocalProv about his quest to push for a more transparent government and explain how he would change state government.

1) One of Common Cause's top priorities is to promote transparency within government. Where does Rhode Island rank in terms of transparency compared with other states?

We are both good and bad in the Ocean State. We have some of the better campaign finance and ethics laws in the nation, both of which bring lots of transparency about our elected officials and those who finance their campaigns. However, our Access to Public Records Act (the state version of the Freedom of Information Act) has some glaring holes that limit the amount we can find out about how those elected officials are behaving once in office. For instance, in Alaska reporters were able to get access to Governor Sarah Palin's official emails. None of that information is available here, and the public suffers because of it.

2) Pensions are the hot topic right now. How has the General Assembly handled the legislation so far?

Common Cause asked the General Assembly to provide ample time for the public to examine and comment on the bill. Additionally, we asked that any amendments be made public 48 hours in advance of votes. So far the public has had plenty of time to comment on the actual legislation, and with the current one week break between the committee vote and floor deliberation, the public has plenty of time to contact their elected representatives. Amendments have been somewhat of a mixed bag. There was a 24 hour period between the big amendments to the bill and the committee vote last week, but there were yet more changes made right before the vote. And we don't know how this week will go.

3) Take us through a day in your life.

If I'm lucky I get to have breakfast with my kids before they go to school and then maybe to the Y for some exercise. At the office it’s a combination of reading (legislation, legal decisions, research, lots of email), writing (testimony, communications with members), and meetings (our Governing Board, elected officials, etc.). Since we are a membership organization we need to raise enough money to keep the lights on, so we (Caroline Mailloux is the other half of our staff) spend a lot of time on that. I attend a lot of public meetings, including every day when the legislature is in session, which takes me into the evening oftentimes. Again, if I'm lucky I see the kids before they go to bed.

4) If there were three things you could instantly change about state government, what would they be?

1) I would eliminate private fundraising for election campaigns--it's little more than legally permissible bribery. Roughly 80% of the Connecticut legislature is elected using their clean elections system. 2) Restore the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly (it was removed by a 2009 state Supreme Court opinion). 3) Decentralize leadership at the General Assembly--the most important decisions are being made by too few people.

5) Tell us something nobody knows about you.

My athletic career peaked when I was the captain of the 6th grade basketball team.

Quick Hitters

Role Model: My father, John Marion, Sr., whose work ethic and ethics inspire me every day.
Favorite Restaurant: La Laiterie in Wayland Square
Best Beach: Fogland in Tiverton (my kids love the hermit crabs)
Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: The Power Broker by Robert Caro
Advice for the Next John Marion: Go to law school before you take the job

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