The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted Tuesday to investigate a conflict of interest complaint filed against state Sen. Valarie Lawson (D-East Providence) by the Rhode Island Republican Party.
The GOP filed the complaint earlier this month, charging it was a conflict for Lawson to twice vote on a continuing contracts bill that was signed into law last week by Gov. Gina Raimondo.
Lawson is a teacher and a paid vice president of the National Education Association Rhode Island teachers’ union, so, the GOP contends, it was a conflict for her to vote on the contracts bill.
Lawson has rejected the idea that she was in conflict. She has said that she received guidance from Ethics Commission staff ahead of the vote and followed that advice.
In a statement distributed by the Senate, Lawson said, “I strive to conduct the people’s business transparently and within the rules as they exist. Prior to taking any action on the continuing contracts or JANUS legislation, I sought and received guidance from staff at the Ethics Commission. I also asked the Senate’s attorney to follow up with the Ethics Commission to confirm my understanding of how to proceed. I adhered to the guidance that was provided by the Commission’s staff, which may be why the prosecutor recommended dismissal of the complaint.”
According to Common Cause of RI executive director John Marion, the Ethics Commission’s prosecutor initially recommended dismissing the complaint against Lawson. The commission rejected that recommendation, on a one-vote margin.
In related news, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee settled a case with the Ethics Commission by paying a $250 fine for not disclosing a trip to Taiwan on a fiancial disclosure form in 2017.
This story has been updated.