I spent some time this morning thinking about the intersection of lobbying, lawyering and being an elected official. These questions arose while I was looking into the lobbying record of Ryan Holt, one of the three Democratic candidates for Providence City Council in Ward 2. (Helen Anthony and Mark Feinstein are the other candidates. Samuel Zurier, the incumbent, is not seeking re-election.)
Holt is a lawyer and registered as a lobbyist with the State of Rhode Island. Holt’s lobbying is through Capitol Communications Group LLC, which is associated with the law firm DarrowEverett LLC in the Turk’s Head Building downtown. Holt has a DarrowEverett email and lists Capitol Communications as the lobbying firm he works for. Holt appears to answer to lawyer Nicholas Hemond, who is a registered lobbyist at the City of Providence and the State of Rhode Island.
Holt’s most recent filing with the Rhode Island Secretary of State‘s office lists the following clients:
Hospital Association of Rhode Island $5,000.00 Monthly
High Rock Development $10,000.00 Monthly
RISPCA $6,250.00 Annually
Axcess Financial $20,000.00 Annually
Rhode Island Fraternal Order of Police $15,000.00 Annually
Rhode Island Cannabis Association $2,333.00 Monthly
Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence $3,000.00 Monthly
AAA Northeast $22,000.00 Annually
Rhode Island Physicians for Quality Care $9,000.00 Annually
Major League Baseball $4,000.00 Monthly
National Basketball Association $1,500.00 Monthly
Nicholas Hemond is listed with City of Providence as lobbying for High Rock Development from February 7-13, 2017.
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As a State of Rhode Island lobbyist, Hemond lists all the same clients as Holt, plus three more:
Happy Beats Inc $3,000.00 Annually
City Year Providence $18,000.00 Annually
Atwells Group LLC $300.00 Hourly
Some of the clients Holt and Hemond represent may have business before the Providence City Council, or may be impacted by decisions the City Council might make. For instance, High Rock Development is the owner of the Industrial National Bank Building, aka the “Superman Building” downtown. Issues surrounding that building intersect with issues often before the Providence City Council, such as downtown redevelopment, affordable housing, homelessness, smoking bans and more.
Another client that may cause concern for some people is Axcess Financial, the payday loan company which operates Check ‘n Go and Allied Cash Advance stores across the country and here in Rhode Island. Last year Nicholas Hemond worked with Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence) to eliminate the interest-rate ceiling on PayDay loans in Rhode Island, seemingly as a last minute special favor to Axcess Financial and other payday lenders.
Opposition from Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Slater’s withdrawal of the bill prevented this.
The Center for American Progress maintains that payday loans, aka “predatory lending” has damaged the national economy and individual households” and “is especially harmful because it disproportionately takes place in vulnerable communities.”
Reached for comment, Holt’s campaign manager David Ellison did not address the payday loan questions directly, saying that, “The premise of the inquiry is faulty. The clients are the firm’s clients. The funds are paid to the firm for which Ryan works.”
That said, Ryan is proud of and takes responsibility for at least some of his lobbying work:
“Over the past two years, in his career, Ryan has worked as an advocate on many issues,” replied Ellison. “He has lobbied to protect our community from dangerous firearms. He has lobbied to strengthen our health care system and make quality care more accessible and affordable to all Rhode Islanders. Has has lobbied to protect animals. He has lobbied to strengthen our economy so that all kids that grow up in Providence will have great opportunities to work and raise a family in the City they grew up in.”
As for potential conflicts of interests:
“As an attorney, Ryan holds himself to the highest ethical standard,” replied Ellison. “He would never allow his work to compromise his public service. In any matter where his client’s had matters before the City he would recuse as is his professional and ethical obligation. His opinions as to policies that would be implemented in the City is shaped by his life long connection to the City of Providence formed by growing up in a hardworking family. If elected, he would advocate for the values and ideals important to Ward 2 constituents and the overall Providence community. He will be an advocate for improving schools, expansion of community based public safety strategies and a responsive government that delivers City services in an efficient and effective manner.”
Ellison added, “Ryan would not represent any client before any municipal board in Providence if elected. In the event one of the firm’s clients issues rises to the level of City Council, Ryan will recuse himself on both fronts. We anticipate this to be a rare occurrence. Downtown issues are quite a broad net and have citywide impact which would range to businesses and individuals in and around the City and beyond. Ryan wants to improve and grow Providence for everyone so that more people and families can build their lives and careers here – every decision he would make on the Council would have that in mind.”
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