General Assembly Lawyers and Political Donations

In another of her snapshots inside the State of Rhode Island’s payroll, the Providence Journal’s Katherine Gregg lists the 56 lawyers who work for the General Assembly.

In fairness, the General Assembly surely has a great deal of need for lawyers, particularly in crafting law, as well as parliamentary procedure.  For the most part, I read all legislation that receives a vote on the floor of either the House or the Senate, and I read it only closely enough to decide whether’s it’s worth scoring, and that takes me weeks of full-time work every year.  The General Assembly needs people to craft and/or review every piece of legislation that moves through the building.

Even accepting that lawmakers require a good number of employees certified in handling the law, one detail from Gregg’s story stands out:

The annual cost for this army of lawyers advising the state’s 113 part-time lawmakers: $3.1 million. And that does not include the $772,760 the General Assembly is paying toward health, dental and vision care packages for the vast majority of these lawyers, even in the off-session.

Only 15 of the 56 lawyers work full time for the General Assembly…

Why would the General Assembly not just hire more full-time lawyers and save on benefit costs?  If it has to do with the uneven workload during the year, why not hire them on a contract basis for a few months?

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Gregg flushes out some political and familial relationships among the lawyers, but in order to expand that line of inquiry some, I ran the 56 names through the Board of Elections’ campaign finance tool.  Keep in mind that this is a somewhat rough review that doesn’t attempt to eliminate campaign donors with the same names, but the findings are interesting nonetheless.

For starters, not a single search came up empty, and the total for all years searchable on the Web site was $501,023.  Since Representative Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) became Speaker of the House on March 25, 2014, the people on my search list have contributed $102,460 — $31,575 to the speaker.  No other politician was even close.  Former Majority Leader John DeSimone came in at $11,925, and current Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (D, Warwick) has collected $6,865.  Paiva Weed came next,

Returning to the $501,023 total, Mattiello still leads, with $51,425.  Taking out Peter Wasylyk, who is one of the lawyers and is listed as having contributed a great deal to his own campaign, Mattiello is unsurprisingly followed on the list by former Speakers Gordon Fox ($32,350) and William Murphy ($23,825).

I’ve asked the speaker’s spokesman for additional details and a statement on why this group of lawyers seems so inclined to assist the speaker’s political fortunes.  I’m generally a believer that political donations should not be heavily regulated, but legislative leaders should take a look at these numbers lest Rhode Islanders get the impression there’s some sort of quid pro quo.

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