NEW: Sen. Jabour Demands Raimondo Return $7,000 Davos Funding to URI Foundation

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


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Gov. Gina Raimondo's $7,000 from the URI Foundation has come under fire from board member and State Senator Paul Jabour.

Senator Paul Jabour is demanding that Governor Gina Raimondo return $7,000 to the URI Foundation that she received for her upcoming Davos trip. 

Jabour, a State Senator who represents District 5 which is in Providence and serves as member of the University of Rhode Island Foundation Board, said that the URI Foundation board never considered or voted on the proposal fo fund Raimondo's trip to the World Economic Forum, but rather the Foundation's Interim Director James Hopkins approved the request by the Governor unilaterally.

"I didn't recall ever considering it or seeing it on the agenda, so I called over [to the Foundation], and they confirmed that [Hopkins] approved it," said Jabour. "There's a provision that permits that the Director can be authorized to give up to $10,000 in discretionary funding." 

"I think [Raimondo] should give it (the money) back," said Jabour. "If we want to pay for it, then I think it should be on the next agenda.  If the Foundation board wants to authorize it and sees a benefit to it for college research, and she says she's made a match, and this is what will give us a benefit, then so be it. I don't think there was any discussion --  it's a slippery slope."

"If the Foundation had a vote, I'd think we'd say no," said Jabour. "I don't think we'd say we don't support what the Governor is doing.  But we don't want to support government activities.  Is there something about this she doesn't want to be public?"

"The Interim Director is a wonderful person, he's done a great job.  I would have preferred it to be the Foundation approach the Governor. It's a little backwards," said Jabour. "In terms of who's advising [Raimondo], this doesn't look good, it's bad advice."

Established in 1957, the University of Rhode Island Foundation is an independent, 501 (c)(3) corporation charged with raising and managing private charitable support for the University.

The Foundation’s daily operations are managed by a president, who reports to a volunteer Executive Board.  According to its mission, the URI Foundation exists to inspire and steward philanthropic support benefiting the University of Rhode Island

Questioning RIC Moves

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Senator Paul Jabour

Jabour said he is also planning on taking action on the appointment by Raimondo of Richard Culatta to be Rhode Island's first chief innovation officer -- funded by the Rhode Island College Foundation. 

"And I was not in favor of what happened at RIC," said Jabour of Raimondo's move. "I'm going to introduce a bill that mandates that position be statutory. I don't think Raimondo can create a position if she wanted it. This is why it can't be funded in the budget. There's a section of the law that deals with cabinet positions-- 42-6-3."

"She should not have circumvented the Senate," said Jabour. "The Senate should have been able to confirm it, especially for that amount of money.  It would have given us the ability to ask is there anything in this person's appointment that qualifies him for the position."

Rhode Island College Foundation, established in 1965, is a separate entity that is devoted to raising funds solely for Rhode Island College. The Foundation also exercises fiduciary responsibility over endowments and other philanthropic investments made to Rhode Island College.

According to its "Vision Statement," Rhode Island College Foundation is the primary source of private support to the college as it achieves its mission to offer accessible higher education of the finest quality to traditional and non-traditional students from around the state, the region, and beyond.


Related Slideshow: Raimondo and Mattiello - Friction Going Into the 2016 Session

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Mattiello has long questioned why little Rhode Island has its own health exchange. His questions center around scale, cost and long-term viability.  Raimondo had been defending the Chafee initiative, but the move of Anya Rader Wallack from her leadership position at HealthSource to Medicaid (right when open enrollment started, to boot) is one of the indications of Raimondo’s walk away.

As GoLocal reported in January, Walack’s program in Vermont ended up failing under her leadership

Now the question is, will Raimondo make the policy change in her budget or make Mattiello do the dirty work?

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Raimondo has been the champion of an ever-changing funding scheme to rebuild Rhode Island’s infrastructure.

No one questions the need to rehab Rhode Island’s failed bridges and roads, but most everyone has raised questions about the constantly changing funding structure and the corresponding lack of disclosure. 

Raimondo’s request to legislative leaders has been to pass legislation -  and to trust her and her administration. Last session of the General Assembly the Senate functionally went along with the plan and the House held firm on wanting to see the numbers.

Now, it is six-months later and much of the plan has not been disclosed to legislative leaders, the public or the media.

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Irony of Transparency

For decades, Rhode Island Speakers have been wildly criticized for being all powerful, Machiavellian, and highly secretive, but in this unusual situation it is often that Mattiello is the open, responsive and proactive communicator. 

In contrast, Raimondo less than two months ago came under fire from the media and civil rights groups for secrecy, failing to respond to media inquiries, and non-responsiveness to public information requests. 

As GoLocal reported in October: 

Five organizations, including ACCESS/RI, American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Press Association, New England First Amendment Coalition,and League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, sent sharply wordedletter to Governor Gina Raimondo on Tuesday asking her to issue an executive order which calls on state agencies to "adopt a strong presumption in favor of disclosure in addressing public information requests.

Mattiello, unlike his predecessors, has been the voice of the voter asking for information and requesting greater transparency. 

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Election Year

The Democratic Governor enjoys a four-year term, but she needs the support of a legislature who is up for re-election with an electorate that is wildly dissatisfied with the direction of the country, the direction of the state, the performance of Congress. It is a Presidential election year which will only add to the volatility.

The Governor who only won the Democratic primary with 40% of the vote and then was elected last November with 40% off the vote hardly has the most powerful bully pulpit to speak from.

For many legislators the smart political step maybe to show independence and raise questions rather than to lock step with her.  

For Mattiello, this means he may need to give far greater latitude to legislators to vote freely.

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Raimondo a Lawyer and Venture Capitalist 

Raimondo is trained as an attorney and worked nearly her entire professional career as Venture Capitalist. Lots of Non-Disclosure Agreements, “paper the deal” with agreements and little disclosure.

This training is great for confidentiality as it relates to high stakes venture, but those skills become obstacles to governing in a Democracy during a period when the public demands transparency.

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 “I am better than you”

There is a growing sentiment among Democratic legislators that the Governor has a “I am better than you” attitude. Raimondo who was educated at Yale, Harvard and Oxford seems to intentionally or unintentionally exude superiority.

As one legislator told GoLocal at the request of anonymity, “The only thing worse than her being pompous is when she tries to act like she is ‘just like everyone else.’ It is insulting.”

The ramifications of the Governor and her staff’s tone is not lost on legislators. Top Raimondo confidant Representative Joe Shekarchi can only do “Shuttle-Diplomacy” so much. 

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Raimondo has announced a series of initiatives to restrict gun ownership in Rhode Island. A corresponding pro-gun control campaign is being funded by Democratic heavy weight Mark Weiner and former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld.

Raimondo uses the issue of gun control as a fundraising trigger with her supporters. The initiative may be good political fundraising, but will put her at odds with Mattiello, who is a strong gun rights supporter who has received high scores for his voting record on from the gun rights organization.


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