The Rhode Island Ethics Commission has dismissed a GOP complaint filed against Gov. Gina Raimondo.

On a 7-to-1 vote, the commission found there was not probable cause to believe that Raimondo had committed “a knowing and willful violation of the Code of Ethics.”

The commission did not outline its reasoning while initially releasing details of its decision.

Republicans had argued that Raimondo support for a contract extension for gambling-services company IGT financially benefited former IGT chairman Donald Sweitzer, who continued working as a lobbyist for the company, and who was treasurer for the Democratic Governors Association during Raimondo’s tenure as chair of the DGA.

Raimondo had previously argued that her support for extending IGT was based on statewide economic benefits.

Jonathan Berkon, a Washington, DC-based lawyer representing Raimondo in the ethics case, said in a statement, “We are pleased that the Ethics Commission voted to dismiss this baseless complaint, following a thorough review. We want to thank the Ethics Commission and its staff for their time and effort. The governor remains focused on fighting every day to get Rhode Islanders safely back to work.”

RI GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki expressed disappointment with the outcome.

"Governor Gina Raimondo and lobbyist Donald Sweitzer worked together as Chairperson and Treasurer to affect and achieve the financial objectives of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA)," Cienki said in a statement. "Sweitzer was called the Treasurer of the DGA in various IRS forms and was referred to as a manager at the DGA. The Ethics Commission ignored this and apparently bought Raimondo’s argument that Sweitzer was not the Treasurer at the DGA because someone else, acting on Sweitzer’s behalf, handled the DGA’s bank accounts. In 2019, the DGA raised over $43.5 million. Does the Ethics Commission really believe that Sweitzer did not play an important leadership role in affecting and achieving the DGA’s financial goals in 2019? The Ethics Commission’s decision just makes it easier for politicians and their lobbyist friends to circumvent the Ethics Code."

According to the commission, commissioner J. Douglas Bennett was the lone ‘no’ vote. The votes to dismiss the complaint came from Chairwoman Marisa A. Quinn, Vice Chair Arianne Corrente, Secretary Kyle P. Palumbo, M. Therese Antone, Timothy Murphy, Robert A. Salk; and Emili B. Vaziri.

Four of those voting to dismiss the complaint were directly appointed to the commission by Raimondo; the other members were selected from lists provided by legislative leaders.

While IGT and Twin River took part in a bitter battle last year over who should provide Rhode Island’s gambling services, the two companies later came together with a joint offer. That proposal remains on hold due to the pandemic.

The commission had voted last August to review the Republican complaint against the governor. 

In her statement, GOP Chair Cienki added this: "In the end, we must admit we are not surprised by the Ethics Commission’s decision. A near majority of the Ethics Commission members are gubernatorial appointees. Also, in recent years, the Ethics Commission has interpreted the conflict of interest provisions of the Ethics Code in a way that benefits State House politicians. The Ethics Commission focuses much of its time on making sure annual disclosure forms are filed and filled out correctly. When the Ethics Commission does fine an official for a conflict of interest, it is usually a local official, who doesn’t have any appointees on the Ethics Commission. For example, a few years ago, the Ethics Commission fined the Block Island Town Warden for failing to recuse herself from a contract negotiation with a non-profit organization because the Town Warden’s campaign treasurer was on the board of directors of the non-profit. The Ethics Commission thinks what the Block Island Town Warden did was unethical, but it is believes it is appropriate for a Governor to negotiate a billion dollar no-bid deal with a state vendor for which her DGA Treasurer is a lobbyist. This shows that when it comes to State House politicians, the Ethics Commission policy is to do nothing except make excuses.”