Top Watchdog Alleges Elorza Received Illegal Contribution from Roger Williams University

Monday, February 06, 2017


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Mayor Elorza subject to a campaign finance complaint

GoLocal has learned that a complaint will be filed on Monday morning with the Rhode Island Board of Elections that claims Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza received an illegal campaign finance contribution.

“This complaint alleges that Jorge Elorza received an illegal contribution from Roger Williams University in the fall of 2014, during his campaign for Mayor of the City of Providence. In accordance with Rhode Island law, Elorza’s campaign must immediately return the contribution in full,” writes Johanna Harris in the complaint. 

For more than two decades, Harris was a top level attorney at BankBoston. She was appointed Chair of the Board of Licenses by former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

Harris was replaced on the Board by Elorza.

Complaint Charges

"Elorza Refuses to Disclose Terms of Leave from Roger Williams University," reported GoLocal in October 2014, when Elorza ran for Mayor, and left his duties as law professor at RWU. 

In 2015, GoLocal wrote, "Roger Williams Paid Elorza to Teach a Cancelled Class" -- and that his spokesperson at the time claimed Elorza would likely teach the class he had been paid for -- but didn't teach --  during the 2016-2017 school year to make up for it. 

“It is indisputable that Jorge Elorza sought a leave of absence from teaching at Roger Williams University so that he could devote full time to his mayoral campaign. It is likewise indisputable that Roger Williams University’s payment to Elorza without the concomitant teaching obligation conferred an advantage to him as a candidate,” writes Harris in her complaint. 

“Accordingly, Roger Williams’ payment to Elorza during his mayoral campaign for services he did not perform constitutes a campaign contribution. (Rhode Island Board of Elections. Campaign Finance Manual 2016, at § 9.0). A campaign contribution is “anything of value to influence an election.” 


Harris also claims in her complaint that Elorza never taught the class that the Mayor’s previous spokesman referred to.

The most recent course catalogue issued by Roger Williams University Law School for the spring term 2017 shows no course taught by Elorza.

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Johanna Harris, former Chair of Board of Licenses

As GoLocal reported in November of 2015

According to Rhode Island ethics filings, the non-profit Roger Williams University paid Elorza to teach a class that did not take place. Roger Williams University is in the midst of a major expansion in Providence, moving its law school to the city and moving to the former 38 Studios building. 

Of the private colleges, universities, and hospitals in the City of Providence, Roger Williams is the only college not making a payment. Brown University pays about $4 million a year, of which $2.5 million is voluntary and about $1.5 million is in real estate and other taxes.  According to Evan England, Elorza's spokesperson, the City of Providence's Law Department claims there are no issues in which the city and Roger Williams interact -- thus no conflict.

Elorza Tells One Story and Roger Williams Tells Another

England told GoLocal that Roger Williams cancelled the class shortly before the the students were to begin their coursework and classes. The school had already begun paying Elorza for the work, prior to its decision to cancel the class, and therefore simply continued to pay him for the work anyhow.

While he was paid for the work, the school and Elorza basically had an agreement that he would later make it up to the school.

"While Mayor Elorza remains on an unpaid leave of absence from Roger Williams, he will teach a single class during the 2016-2017 academic year with no additional compensation," said England.

England said he wasn't sure why the class was cancelled. England declined to say how much Elorza was paid by the University in advance for his class being cancelled.

However, the school's Director of Public Affairs, Brian Clark, tells the story differently. Clark said that it was Elorza who requested he be placed on leave, and that request was granted.

"Per policy at Roger Williams University School of Law, faculty members can request a leave of absence for personal or professional reasons," Clark wrote in an email to GoLocal.

"Tenured RWU Law faculty member Jorge Elorza requested and was granted a leave of absence for the Fall 2014 semester in accordance with that policy. He did not teach during that semester. Roger Williams University and the School of Law consider more detailed personnel matters to be confidential."

In any event, Elorza will be teaching a class one semester, while he's still the sitting Mayor of the city. It is expected to take place sometime during the 2016-2017 school year at Roger Williams Law School. England said that the Mayor will not be paid by the school since he's already been compensated for the work during the 2014 year.

"You can imagine there are going to be somewhere between 30-40 law students who are excited to have the opportunity to take a class taught by a sitting mayor," England said during a phone interview on Friday evening. READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE


Related Slideshow: Harris Complaint Letter Against Elorza - 2017


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