Rhode Islanders want a government that is free of conflict-of-interest. That is why three decades ago we created one of the strongest Ethics Commissions in the United States. Since then we have worked to eliminate nepotism, minimize the size of gifts lobbyists can give to public officials, and put in place a comprehensive revolving door policy for public officials. There is still much work to be done to improve the Code of Ethics.
Our Latest Victory
In June 2009 the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled in favor of former Senate President William Irons in his suit against the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. In their opinion the Court ruled that Article VI, Section 5, the Speech in Debate Clause of the Rhode Island Constitution, protects members of the General Assembly from prosecution by the Ethics Commission when it involves their “core legislative acts”.
The Common Cause Rhode Island brief in Irons argued that the 1986 Constitutional Convention clearly wanted legislators subject to the Code of Ethics, for all their actions. Since our view did not prevail in court, we supported a constitutional amendment that would restore the full jurisdiction of our state’s Ethics Commission over all actions of legislators.
In 2016, after a seven-year struggle, the amendment was put on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Rhode Island General Assembly. On November 8, 2016 more than 78% of Rhode Island voters chose to restore the Ethics Commission’s full jurisdiction. As of January 1, 2017 the Rhode Island Constitution is amended to reflect the new language.