This paragraph from Ted Nesi’s weekend column, Saturday, deserves reading and clipping for future reference:
Tapping unusual funding sources to pay for public initiatives has become a hallmark of Gina Raimondo’s political career since she took office five years ago, and this was the week it backfired on her rather spectacularly. Raimondo has always had an easy time harnessing cash, as was widely noted as far back as 2010, when she set a blistering fundraising pace in a sleepy campaign for treasurer. Then in 2011 she courted controversy by encouraging anonymous donors – later revealed to include the hedge-fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife – to drum up support for her pension overhaul through EngageRI. Soon after she became governor, Brown created a new policy shop to advise her office, funded with nearly $3 million from Arnold. Then there was the Brookings study, commissioned by Raimondo to guide public policy but paid for by private donors (including Rhode Island native Mark Gallogly, whose old firm, Blackstone, just bought Wexford Science + Technology). And now there’s the contretemps over tapping the RIC and URI foundations to pay for, respectively, a chief innovation officer and a trip to Davos. In each case, Raimondo allies say she’s saving taxpayers money while doing things that are good for Rhode Island. But continuing to go the non-traditional route will also continue to raise questions about whether Raimondo’s methods skirt normal rules and accountability.
“Always had an easy time harnessing cash.” That’s something to watch in and out of government. In the ’80s, the design-the-world Greenhouse Compact failed when a required bond gave the people a vote, so now we get Raimondo funding her economic development schemes through a fancy debt refinancing deal and seeking to fund transportation infrastructure through a revenue bond based on tolls.
There was a time when even progressives and journalists were suspicious of the alchemy of creating money from air. Now, we get Rhode Island’s useless, navel-gazing, and corrupt Ethics Commission blithely noting that the chief innovation officer Raimondo hired through the private nonprofit Rhode Island College Foundation isn’t subject to its review because he doesn’t actually work for the state. Nesi hedges too much, because it’s absolutely clear that “Raimondo’s methods skirt normal rules and accountability.”
Remember, too, in this context, that certain legislators — notably Democrat House Whip John “Jay” Edwards and Republican House Minority Leader Brian Newberry — apparently believe the real threat to representative democracy in Rhode Island isn’t a governor who can bring a cauldron to a boil and produce a shadow government with private money, but regular Rhode Islanders who put down $100 over the course of a year to push back on the special interests that dominate local government.