- Associated Press - Thursday, June 26, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Former House Speaker Gordon Fox had a personal loan from a registered legislative lobbyist for several years, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The lobbyist, Ray Rickman, confirmed the loan and said he gave it to Fox in 2009, when Fox was House majority leader. Fox became speaker in 2010. Rickman would not give details on the amount of the loan or say what it was for.

The disclosure was made in statements Fox filed with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission this week, including his 2013 financial disclosure statement and amendments to financial disclosures made for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. In them, he said he had an outstanding debt to Rickman of more than $1,000.

Rickman, an ex-deputy secretary of state and former state lawmaker, was a registered lobbyist in all those years except 2010.

Fox and his lawyers did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Fox’s activities have been under scrutiny since March 21, when the FBI, IRS and other authorities raided his Statehouse office and home. He resigned his leadership position the next day. The U.S. attorney’s office has not said what it is investigating or if Fox is the target. Fox has declined to discuss the investigation.

Rickman described Fox as a friend as close as a brother, and said he had mentored him since Fox was 20 years old.

“I used to loan Gordon money to ride the bus to school,” he told the AP on Thursday.

“He’s in trouble and you all are having a field day,” he said, referring to speculation that has swirled since the Statehouse raid. “I love Gordon Fox, and I do not wish to help the media.”

He said he had not spoken to Fox about the disclosure.

In his work as a lobbyist, Rickman has represented entities including insurance services and agencies that provide support services for developmental disabilities and mental health counseling.

Rickman was appointed by Fox in 2011 to the commission that recommended new district lines for Congress and the state legislature.

Jason Gramitt, a staff attorney for the Ethics Commission, said state ethics law does not prohibit a lawmaker from taking a loan from a lobbyist, but that it does create a business association.

A public official generally has to recuse himself on matters that have a direct financial impact on business associates, but the Ethics Commission has been prevented from looking into such issues at the General Assembly since the state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the commission does not have jurisdiction to investigate whether lawmakers have misused their public office to benefit themselves or those close to them, he said.

John Marion, executive director of the good government group Common Cause, said lawmakers shouldn’t be taking personal loans from lobbyists. He said it could lead to conflicts where lawmakers are helping to pass or to block legislation that is being supported or opposed by a given lobbyist.

“Much of what lawmakers can do to help lobbyists doesn’t leave a paper trail,” he said. “Legislators control the flow of legislation and therefore can stop legislation.”

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