Dem Gov Faces Ethics Investigation

Raimondo steered no-bid contract to DGA treasurer's company

Gina Raimondo
Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo / Getty Images
August 21, 2019

Democratic Governors Association chairwoman Gina Raimondo is being investigated after her administration awarded a no-bid $1 billion contract to a gambling company connected to the DGA's treasurer.

In June, Raimondo attempted to hand a $1 billion contract to International Game Technology (IGT) to run the state's lottery system and give the company a 32 percent share of newly legalized sports gambling revenue. The no-bid deal raised eyebrows in Rhode Island after it was revealed that DGA treasurer Donald Sweitzer served as the U.K.-based gambling company's lobbyist under a contract that paid him $7,500 a month. IGT has donated $70,000 to Raimondo's election campaigns since 2014.

The state's nonpartisan ethics commission is now investigating Raimondo for potential conflicts of interest following a complaint filed by the state Republican Party. The commission dismissed a secondary GOP complaint alleging that the no-bid contract violated state law.

Raimondo did not respond to request for comment. Her attorney Jonathan Berkon welcomed the investigation in a statement. Berkon noted that the commission rejected the complaint about the no-bid nature of the contract and expects Raimondo to be cleared of any wrongdoing.

"We applaud the Ethics Commission's decision to throw out one of the two claims filed by the state Republican Party," Berkon said. "We are confident that when the Ethics Commission reviews the facts relating to the other claim, it will once again conclude this latest partisan complaint has no merit."

The state Republican Party praised the commission for opening the investigation into the "special treatment" the governor used when dealing with her appointed deputy at the DGA.

"The Rhode Island GOP is pleased that the Ethics Commission will investigate Raimondo for the special treatment her administration has shown IGT while Raimondo and Donald Sweitzer, a lobbyist for IGT, have been associates in the Democratic Governors Association," the party said in a statement.

The DGA did not respond to request for comment about the ethics investigation or Raimondo and Sweitzer's behavior.

The state Republican Party petitioned for an investigation in July, pointing to the potential conflicts of interest in the no-bid process. Sweitzer, who served as IGT's chairman before becoming its lobbyist, still owned nearly 60,000 shares in the company, according to the complaint. The filing says the no-bid contract will "increase IGT’s share of Rhode Island lottery revenues from 1 percent to 5 percent between $275 million to $400 million and will change Rhode Island law to give IGT control of 85 percent of the video gaming machines."

"Raimondo violated [the ethics code] when she entered into a new agreement with IGT while Sweitzer, her DGA business associate, was actively lobbying for IGT related to this agreement," the complaint says.

Rhode Island ethics laws prohibit public officials from benefiting themselves or business associates through their positions.

A Raimondo spokesman denied the allegations when the complaint was filed in July, calling it a "partisan attack." He defended the $1 billion deal by saying it would protect local jobs by ensuring IGT remains in the state.

"This is a partisan attack attempting to derail proposed legislation that would guarantee jobs for 1,100 Rhode Islanders, secure hundreds of millions in local investment, and generate $80 billion in revenue for the state," Raimondo spokesman Joshua Block said.

Shortly after Raimondo was named chairwoman of the DGA in 2018 Sweitzer retired as chairman of IGT and was subsequently named DGA treasurer. He has since traveled the country with Raimondo raising money for the DGA. IGT is among the Democratic organization's largest contributors, sending $1.4 million dollars to the DGA since 2003, just below Microsoft's donations over that time.

Raimondo's office told the Providence Journal that Sweitzer "had no involvement in the negotiation" of the $1 billion contract. Democratic state House speaker Nicholas Mattiello has disputed that claim.

Mattiello said he met with Sweitzer and another IGT lobbyist in the spring. When the pair told him about the proposed deal he was surprised. He has since questioned why the legislature had not been made aware of the IGT deal.

Sweitzer, who did not return request for comment through the DGA, acknowledged he spoke with Raimondo about IGT, but denied ever discussing the no-bid contract in a July statement to the Providence Journal.

Published under: Rhode Island