Watchdogs Raise Questions About Elorza Administration’s Improper Payments to Lobbyist

Saturday, August 25, 2018


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Calls for Elorza Administration to follow city's procedures

Jorge Elorza’s administration has been making improper payments to campaign donor and State House lobbyist Joe Walsh’s firm, Government Strategies, for the past year. The $33,000 in total payments were not approved through the City’s bidding process — the Board of Contract and Supply — nor is there a contract in place between the lobbying firm and the City. 

Watchdog groups, elected officials, and candidates reacted to improper payments, voiced concerns, and called for the Elorza administration to immediately seek approval for the payments.

“It's disappointing that the City of Providence is continuing to make payments to a high-priced lobbyist without a vote by the Board of Contract and Supply. The residents of the City have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent, which is why significant expenditures such as this must go before a public board for a vote,” said John Marion of Rhode Island Common Cause.

Previously, Walsh's firm was paid $72,000 — and the approval from the Board of Contract and Supply was only made after Walsh did work for more nearly two years. Checks for the lobbying activity — 2016 and 2017 had been processed, but held by the City Treasurer Jim Lombardi until the Board of Contract and Supply — a Board in which Elorza chairs -- voted.

“This says a lot -- it's obvious that there is no respect for the legislative branch of government [by the Elorza Administration]. They should be working in conjunction with them -- transparency, openness, predictability are especially important in this day and age and I'd be more concerned about that,” said John Lombardi, former Mayor of Providence and now a State Representative.

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John Marion, RI Common Cause

On Thursday, Walsh told GoLocal that his firm, Government Strategies, does not have a contract with the city. “We may have had one in the beginning, but we haven’t in the past couple of years."

Elorza and full-time lobbyist and part-time City Council President David Salvatore refused to respond to questions about the payments to Walsh’s firm — which have neither been approved by the Board of Contract and Supply nor is there an executed contract in effect between the City with the Warwick-based lobbying firm.

Pat Ford, the host of Coalition Radio and Chair of the Libertarian Party in Rhode Island, tells GoLocol, “The City of Providence already employs a team of lobbyists: the State Representatives & Senators elected by City residents. That a highly compensated set of individuals ... playing off personal connections,  or worse yet, the legion of former representatives monetizing their "alleged public service" is disgusting.”

“Acting without allegiance or accountability, their goals are often completely at odds with the demands of the electorate. That such a relationship can exist outside of clearly delineated approval requirements is a testament to the myth that the Elorza Administration represents anything but a business as usual regime. Tragic,” added Ford, one of the leading opponents of providing taxpayer subsidies to the ownership of the PawSox ownership group.

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Former Providence Mayor John Lombardi

“Our tax dollars should be used to improve our schools and roads, not pay powerful lobbyists. Jorge Elorza promised to end the "know-a-guy" culture at City Hall but has just continued it, whether by funneling tax dollars off-the-books to connected lobbyists or by installing speed cameras after his former Chief of Staff was paid thousands per month to sell them to the city. As mayor, I will put strict, binding limits on city employees becoming lobbyists and on the city hiring lobbyist,” said mayoral candidate Bob DeRobbio.

Walsh and others in the firm have been campaign donors to both Elorza and Salvatore.  Elorza has received $2,900 from Walsh and the others at the lobbying firm, according to RI Campaign finance reports. Salvatore has received five donations from Walsh and others in the firm totaling $435.00

Providence Mayor candidate Kobi Dennis said,“…, this is another example of situational ethics and situational transparency. Do as we say, not as we do."


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