Posts tagged procurement
Rhode Island’s history of lawmakers and state contractors getting too cozy? Blame geography and population.
“Rhode Island is a very small state,” said Rep. Michael Marcello (D-Dist. 41). “There has always been a close relationship between contractors and the state government. Not because they are necessarily nefarious – just because there’s not a lot of people who are bidding on these things.”
Even if the two sides are on friendly terms, Marcello wants to make sure the relationship doesn’t come at a price. Marcello has sponsored a bill that prohibits state contractors from donating money to the campaigns of officials controlling the contract. If approved, the legislation would mean any company that receives more than $5,000 in state contracts annually could not donate to a campaign for a candidate who leads a state entity responsible for that contract.The bill mirrors regulations already in place in other states, and was introduced at the request of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who worked with Marcello to craft the language. Marcello said the bill will mostly affect the executive branch, which awards most of the state’s larger contracts.
Marcello (pictured, right) said he’s never personally witnessed what would qualify as a pay-for-play incident in state government, though he didn’t rule out the possibility. But, perhaps as troubling, he said companies looking to do business with the state might feel obligated to donate.
“I think there’s a perception that if you want to be taken seriously, or want to be considered as someone who is able to get these bids, you have to be someone who is connected politically,” Marcello said. “This bill is designed to make [bidding] more transparent, number one – and number two, just to kind of remove any doubt about it.”
One lobbyist has already voiced his opposition privately to Marcello, telling the representative that his bill was an infringement on free speech. So far, Marcello said courts have been lenient in allowing campaign finance restrictions as they relate to government contracts, though he said the free speech issue is a “legitimate constitutional question.”
“But I also think there’s an overriding concern here,” Marcello said. “I’m a lawyer, so I don’t ever like to say you’re sacrificing free speech rights. But I think there are times when there’s a necessary restriction that’s in the public interest.”