As expected the failed 38 Studios loan deal is a major issue in Rhode Island's election campaigns and primary challenges. Even as the Secretary of State is making headlines this week for launching an investigation into possible lobbying violations by 38 Studios, critics of Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin on Tuesday jumped on the news by pointing out that both politicians dropped the ball during the loan deal approval timeframe.
Mollis is facing Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. McKee’s campaign took aim at Mollis after a document obtained by Target 12 showed attorney Michael Corso was paid $300,000 by 38 Studios to lobby state officials.
"Ralph Mollis’s 'too little, too late' decision doesn’t change the fact that he spent years asleep at the wheel as secretary of state, and publicly defended 38 Studios’ failure to register to lobby state government," CJ Macklin, McKee’s campaign manager, said in a statement.
"It’s unfortunate that it took an investigative report by WPRI’s Tim White to get the secretary of state to do the work needed to protect taxpayers," he continued. "Mollis failed at his responsibility as secretary of state to ensure that powerful companies trying to influence government at least do so in the light of day."
State Sen. Lou Raptakis (D-Coventry) a long-time critic of Mollis, who ran against the Secretary of State during the 2010 Democratic primary, also criticized Mollis for failing to police lobbyists adequately. On Tuesday, Raptakis said the new Target 12 findings validate the arguments he made back in 2010.
"I don’t know that he would have prevented the debacle of 38 Studios, but indirectly it probably could have had some kind of bearing on the issue" Raptakis told Target 12. He added: "I mean, it was just absolutely ridiculous that nobody even paid attention."
Raptakis alleged that Mollis had allowed lobbyists to “come in through the back door of the State House” to push for legislation. Mollis has denied that he did too little to look at who was lobbying for 38 Studios, saying he had no hard evidence about what happened prior to being shown the Corso contract obtained by Target 12.
Guillaume De Ramel, a Democrat who ran against Mollis in the 2006 primary and is now running for Secretary of State job in this cycle said he was pleased that Mollis is launching an investigation. He also promised (if elected by voters this fall) to reform lobbying guidelines and penalties within the state so that they are more clear and concise.
Meanwhile, Kilmartin drew criticism from state Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown) who is running against him for attorney general. Hodgson said he would have looked at the issue earlier.
"The real shame of the 38 Studios experience has been a complete lack of oversight from any, any area in government," Hodgson told Target 12. "At every stage where the leaders of Rhode Island, our elected and appointed officials, had the chance to do the right thing for the people – at its inception, at its execution and then its aftermath – they’ve fallen down," he added. "And it’s just not right."