A news report on 38 Studios' alleged lobbying of the Rhode Island government prior to its $75 million loan deal in the state has sparked an investigation through the Rhode Island Secretary of State's office, according to WPRI. A Target 12 News review of the state’s database shows that no one from 38 Studios ever registered to lobby state lawmakers or the governor's office during the years the firm founded by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling was active in Rhode Island (2010 to 2012).
The R.I. Secretary of State's office is supposed to oversee the registration of lobbyists in the state, but Secretary of State Ralph Mollis doesn't seem to have any information on why reps. from 38 Studios were not registered. When Target 12 first asked Mollis why his office never investigated 38 Studios’ failure to register anyone, the secretary of state attributed it to the fact that no one ever filed a complaint with his office.
He also told the news outlet that he did not have "absolute knowledge" that 38 Studios insiders had actually lobbied state officials under the law in the aforementioned timeframe. But within 24 hours of questioning the Secretary of State's office, Mollis decided to launch an investigation and attributed it to Target 12's report.
"Upon further review I think we have obligation and responsibility to look into this, find out if anyone did not file for lobbying," Mollis said.
He also said he may call for State House hearings about 38 Studios’ lobbying as part of his probe.
"We are definitely in new territory," Mollis said. "As a result of our discussion … I walked away from that meeting feeling that it truly needed further review."
Mollis was also apparently moved to action by a document obtained by Target 12 – a "consulting services agreement" dated January 2011 between Providence attorney Michael Corso (an associate of former House Speaker Gordon Fox) and 38 Studios. The document calls for 38 Studios to pay Corso a consulting fee of $300,000 a year to interact "with government agencies and various public officials."
After reading the document, Mollis acknowledged that "that doesn’t get any closer to lobbying than the word lobbyist. Yes, that person should have registered."
"Just by a quick review I think it’s pretty obvious that some individuals may be – and I want to stress may – be in for a hearing before something I put forward," Mollis said.
He listed the names of Schilling, Zaccagnino and Corso as examples of who might be asked to testify. Mollis acknowledged that he does not have subpoena power, but he can still find that someone violated the law even if they don’t show up. He also has the power to refer the matter to the RI Attorney General's office to pursue criminal charges.
Fines for lobbying violations can reach as high as $2,000.