State sen­a­tor pro­motes busi­ness us­ing bill he wrote

New over­sight mea­sure lim­its R.I. leg­is­la­tors’ con­flicts of in­ter­est

Woonsocket Call - - Region/obituaries - By MICHELLE R. SMITH and JEN­NIFER McDER­MOTT

PROV­I­DENCE — Af­ter a bill by state Sen. Stephen Ar­cham­bault ex­panded driv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for some peo­ple con­victed of drunken driv­ing, the law­maker — who also hap­pens to be a lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in those cases — pro­moted it on his firm's web­site.

"Ar­cham­bault lit­er­ally wrote this law, and knows ex­actly what to do to suc­ceed for you," it said.

It's ques­tion­able whether spon­sor­ing a bill that could help drive clients to his law prac­tice rep­re­sents a pos­si­ble con­flict of in­ter­est in Rhode Is­land. But in a na­tion­wide re­view , the Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity and The As­so­ci­ated Press, Ar­cham­bault was found to be one of nu­mer­ous politi­cians whose bills ended up po­ten­tially help­ing their busi­nesses.

Rhode Is­land is like most states in that it does not have a full-time leg­is­la­ture, and most of its law­mak­ers have out­side jobs. The Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity/AP re­view found that at least 76 per­cent of state law­mak­ers hold­ing of­fice in 2015 worked other jobs. While such out­side em­ploy­ment gives law­mak­ers ex­per­tise in cer­tain pol­icy ar­eas, many of those jobs are di­rectly af­fected by the ac­tions of the leg­is­la­tures.

The re­view was based on an anal­y­sis of dis­clo­sure re­ports from 6,933 law­mak­ers in the 47 states that re­quired them. It found many ex­am­ples of state law­mak­ers who have in­tro­duced and sup­ported leg­is­la­tion that di­rectly and in­di­rectly helped their own busi­nesses, their em­ploy­ers or their per­sonal fi­nances. The prac­tice is en­abled by limited dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments for per­sonal fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion and self-polic­ing that of­ten ex­cuses seem­ingly bla­tant con­flicts.

The law Ar­cham­bault spon­sored al­lows first of­fend­ers con­victed of drunken driv­ing to seek hard­ship li­censes for trav­el­ing to and from work and to nec­es­sary ap­point- ments. They're re­quired to have in­ter­lock ig­ni­tion sys­tems in their ve­hi­cles, which mea­sures the al­co­hol in their sys­tems.

The for­mer can­di­date for at­tor­ney general said on his law of­fice web­site that he is in a unique po­si­tion to help peo­ple charged with DUIs: "I lit­er­ally drafted and suc­cess­fully passed the cur­rent DUI law re­gard­ing hard­ship li­censes and in­ter­locks."

The lan­guage about the bill was re­moved af­ter his of­fice was con­tacted by a re­porter. He did not re­turn re­quests for com­ment.

The site still men­tions his work as a sen­a­tor and pro­motes his elected po­si­tion as a sell­ing point for hir­ing him as a lawyer.

Af­ter Ar­cham­bault spon­sored the DUI bill, the state ethics law changed. At the time, the ethics com­mis­sion didn't have the power to in­ves­ti­gate law­mak­ers for po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est or to sanc­tion them when they were found to have acted im­prop­erly. Com­pli­ance was vol­un­tary. In Novem­ber 2016, vot­ers ap­proved a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment restor­ing the com­mis- sion's over­sight.

A com­mis­sion at­tor­ney did not im­me­di­ately com­ment on whether lan­guage on Ar­cham­bault's web­site runs afoul of any ethics rules.

An­other law­maker, Rep. Lau­ren Car­son, a New­port Demo­crat, said she is be­ing more ag­gres­sive about check­ing with the ethics com­mis­sion af­ter the change in the law. Be­fore that, she suc­cess­fully cospon­sored a bill in 2015 to phase out the use of cesspools in the state, an is­sue her em­ployer, Rhode Is­land Clean Water Ac­tion, had been ad­vo­cat­ing for years.

Car­son said the non­profit clearly would not gain fi­nan­cially from the bill. The com­mis­sion told her last sum­mer that the ethics code does not pro­hibit her from work­ing on a project by Clean Water Ac­tion that is funded by a state grant.

Car­son said she also took her name off some en­vi­ron­men­tal bills in the last leg­isla­tive ses­sion to avoid po­ten­tial con­flicts.

"I've been much more care­ful about eval­u­at­ing the types of en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies I ad­vo­cate for. But on the other hand, I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­vo­cate for en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy," she said.


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