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Mattiello is latest former R.I. lawmaker to line up lucrative lobbying clients

The Boston Globe 2/7/2022 Edward Fitzpatrick
Former Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello is now registered as a State House lobbyist. © Charles Krupa Former Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello is now registered as a State House lobbyist.

PROVIDENCE — Being a Rhode Island legislator can be a rewarding experience, providing the opportunity to shape state law and budget priorities. But being a former state legislator can be rewarding in a different way.

Former House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello is just the latest former lawmaker to line up a lucrative State House lobbying gig, trying to exert influence over his former colleagues.

Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat, has registered as a lobbyist for five organizations since he lost his House District 15 seat in the November 2020 elections, according to the secretary of state’s Lobby Tracker website.

Those clients include Lifespan Corp., the state’s largest health care system, which is paying $2,000 per month for lobbying services as it seeks approval for a merger with Care New England. They also include The Providence Journal Company, which is paying $30,000 per year, and the Rhode Island Assisted Living Association, which is paying $3,333 per month.

Those clients make payments through Westminster Consulting Ltd., a firm headed by former Providence Journal executive vice president Mark T. Ryan. So it’s unclear how much of that money goes to Mattiello.

Mattiello is following in the footsteps of his predecessor as House Speaker, William J. Murphy, who has assembled an enviable list of State House lobbying clients since stepping down from the House dais. And he joins the ranks of legislators-turned-lobbyists such as former Senate Minority Leader Robert D. Goldberg, former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Stephen D. Alves, and former House Majority Leader George D. Caruolo.

“If any of us were Mattiello or Murphy, we would do the same thing they’re doing,” Providence College political science Professor Adam S. Myers said. “On the other hand, I think the public looks at this trend of powerful politicians cashing in on their political influence with considerable disdain and frustration.”

The frustration stems from a belief that it shouldn’t work this way, Myers said. “The State House is supposed to be the people’s house,” he said, “and wealthy interests shouldn’t be able to curry favor with those who have the levers of power in the way that they do.”

Mattiello did not return calls for comment on Monday. But Murphy said former lawmakers work hard at their lobbying practices and bring to bear their knowledge of the legislative process.

“You build a lobbying practice one client at a time, the same way you build a law practice,” said Murphy, who is a lawyer. “Legislators who become lobbyists start out a step ahead because they do know how the process works and each state is different, with its own legislative nuances.”

Those who want to get involved in government relations can do it, Murphy said. “It just takes time and effort,” he said. “It’s hard work.”

John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said Rhode Island is by no means unique in having former legislators parlaying their insider knowledge into lobbying paychecks.

“Rhode Island may have fewer degrees of connection, but this is very common in every state and in Congress,” Marion said, citing Democrats such as former US Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Republicans such as former US Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. “Unless they leave in handcuffs, they almost always come back with lobbyist badges pinned to their jackets.”

The House Speaker before Murphy, Gordon D. Fox, did not serve as a lobbyist after leaving office. Rather, he served a federal prison sentence for stealing $108,000 donated by campaign supporters, accepting a $52,000 bribe from the Shark Bar for a liquor license, and failing to report that income on his tax returns.

Marion said former legislators can argue they have specialized knowledge of the legislative process and the issues the Assembly is considering. “And they do have policy expertise that maybe average citizens don’t have,” he said. “But it’s the access that people pay for.”

At its core, lobbying is about gaining access to the policy-making process and exchanging information with the key decision-makers, Marion said. “Who has better access than the people who used to sit in those chairs — or sit on the dais?” he said. “And some of those who remain in power were put there by the newly minted lobbyists.”

So it’s clear why big companies and major organizations would want to hire former legislators to lobby on their behalf, Marion said. But there’s a downside for others who lack that access, he said: “Moneyed interests get the upper hand over the public interest because they can afford to pay former legislators.”

Rhode Island does have a “revolving door” provision in the ethics code barring former state legislators from lobbying the General Assembly for one year after leaving office. For Mattiello, that one-year period just ended in January, so he’s free to lobby his former colleagues during the 2022 legislative session.

But, Myers said, “Clearly, the revolving door provisions are not doing all that much in the way of keeping former politicians out of lobbying the legislature.” So, perhaps the legislature should consider revising the lobbying laws by, for example, extending the one-year “revolving door” period, he said.

“It’s a Catch 22 situation,” Myers said. “You would need a good lobbyist to get that through the Assembly, and those lobbyists might be opposed to it. But on the other hand, folks who are already lobbyists might want to limit competition.”

The organizations hiring former Rhode Island legislators include some of the most successful businesses in the nation and the state.

For example, Murphy, a West Warwick Democrat, has clients such as Apple Inc., Walmart Inc., and Anheuser-Busch Companies. And Goldberg, a South Kingstown Republican, has clients such as FedEx Corporation and CVS.

The clients include many entities that have made the headlines.

For example, Murphy represents Fortuitous Partners LLC, which is involved in the proposed Tidewater Landing project that includes a new soccer stadium in Pawtucket. Goldberg lobbies for IGT, which last year joined with Bally’s in securing a no-bid, $1-billion deal to handle the state’s gambling technology for the next two decades. Alves lobbies for the Auto Body Association of Rhode Island, and the Assembly began its session by overriding the veto of legislation favorable to the auto body repair industry.

Some clients are less well known.

For example, Mattiello lobbies for Aunt Bertha, a public benefit corporation that “collects all federal, state, county, city, neighborhood, and charity program information and puts it in one place and makes it easy for people to find and connect with those programs.” Alves lobbies for Lila’s Love, a manufacturer of “cannabis-infused baked goods for medical marijuana patients.”

And Goldberg lobbies for the American Kratom Association. While the association describes kratom as ”a safe herbal supplement used by millions of Americans to manage pain,” the US Food and Drug Administration warns that the kratom plant “affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine” and “appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.”

Some former legislators have just one client.

For example, former Representative David A. Segal, a progressive Providence Democrat, is registered as a lobbyist for the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization. A Jan. 29 New York Times article described it as a “cryptically named entity that has served as a clearinghouse of undisclosed cash for the left.” The article said the group spent $410 million in 2020 — more than the Democratic National Committee.

Segal said he is co-founder and executive director of Demand Progress, a progressive public interest group which is fiscally sponsored by the Sixteen Thirty Fund.

Other former legislators are lobbying on behalf of organizations they lead. For example, former Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat, is now president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island.

And some former legislators work with other former legislators. For example, former Representative Robert B. Jacquard, a Cranston Democrat, works with Alves and the Capitol Strategies Group. Both Jacquard and Alves list clients such as Visa USA Inc., the Greenleaf Compassion Care Center, and the Rhode Island Pawnbrokers Association.

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